Another Opening Night found the Jazz delivering the latest in arena decorations, spotlight intros and pregame award ceremonies. They also offered a terrific display of missed shots, fumbles, spectating around the backboards and the usual first-game loss Friday night in the Salt Palace.
Seattle 104, Jazz 97.Only 81 more chances to win those 50 games.
Guard Dale Ellis scored 46 points for the SuperSonics and the Jazz came up with big-play mistakes from even John Stockton and Karl Malone in losing their seventh straight opening game. Sobering news of the week: At least until tonight, the Jazz trail Miami in the Midwest Division standings.
"You can't win a game against a quality team like Seattle unless you do the basics," said Stockton, who almost had a triple double - 13 points and 14 assists, but a career-high nine turnovers.
As promised, the Jazz bench worked a total of 31 minutes, and the regulars went all the way in the fourth quarter. While posting their best record ever last season, the Jazz led by league by losing the most games (12) they'd led going into the final period. Same story Friday, even after the Jazz took a four-point lead with 5:02 left when Malone followed in his own rebound.
The Sonics scored 13 of the game's last 17 points, while Darrell Griffith missed twice from inside, Malone was blocked by Michael Cage, Mark Eaton missed a hook and Stockton fired a bad pass into traffic and missed a three-pointer with the Jazz down by four.
Not a pretty sight.
"I wanted the day to be picture-perfect," said Malone, who agreed to an $18 million contract by day and scored 36 points by night, "but it didn't work out that way for me."
For two improving teams with designs on overcoming the Lakers and winning the Western Conference, this was no classic. Other than Ellis, only Cage and Xavier McDaniel scored as many as 10 points, and the X-man was 5 of 17 from the field. While Thurl Bailey was solid with 26 points, the Jazz lost 14 turnovers in the first half alone, missed four techincal-foul free throws - three by Stockton - and shot 43 percent.
"When's the last time I missed layups?" wondered Malone. "I don't understand."
Less mystifying was the Jazz's trouble stopping Ellis, who went for 40 against them one night in Seattle last season when he had the share the ball with Tom Chambers and the Jazz had Bobby Hansen, Darrell Griffith, Kelly Tripucka and Bart Kofoed available to defend him. Left with only Griffith and Kofoed this time, the Jazz and the sellout crowd watched Ellis rack up some Michael Jordan numbers: 14 of 23 from the field, 17 of 19 from the line.
Asked how Griffith's presence figured into in Seattle's game plan, Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said, "We really don't go after individuals."
Just the same, Jazz Coach Frank Layden was not exactly quick to defend Griffith's defense. "Obviously," he said, "he got 46 points, and that's who was guarding him."
Ellis is one of the NBA's best players in using screens, and the Sonics nicely execute plays for him and find him sneaking along on the baseline at the end of the fastbreak. "He got a lot of free throws, he played two positions . . . it didn't all come on me, you know what I'm saying?" mused Griffith. "But still, you don't want to see that, period."
Griffith and the Jazz should have known they were in for trouble with Ellis in the first quarter when the Sonics reeled off 11 straight points, Ellis scoring eight. But the Jazz managed to stay close, and Bailey's six closing points gave them a 78-76 lead after three quarters.
They quickly fell behind by five, but used an eight-point run - Malone's two free throws, Stockton's two free throws, Malone's layup from Stockton - and Bailey's turnaround jumper - to lead by three. Later, though, McDaniel came to life with a driving layup and a hook and Cage added a free throw and the Sonics led 100-95 with 1:54 left.
The Jazz still had a chance when Malone scored inside and McDaniel traveled at the other end, but Stockton tried to thread a pass inside to the scoreless Eaton and the Sonics knocked the ball away and recovered. "If I could have one back, that would definitely be it," said Stockton. "He just looked so open . . ."
After McKey made one free throw for a four-point lead, Stockton missed a fairly open three-pointer and the Sonics wrapped things up.
The Sonics will play their home opener tonight against Denver, while the Jazz will have the distinction of being the only NBA team with the night off. They play Sacramento at home Wednesday.
"It was the first game," said Layden, addressing the sloppy play. "That's why I've always liked to open on the road - there are too many distractions here. You play that road game and get all this out of your system and then come home and play."
Instead, the Jazz showed off all their flaws for 12,444 and a local cable TV audience. The good news is, they're leaving room for improvement.