Just in time, the Los Angeles Lakers arrived to show that everything's OK in Jazzland. Sunday afternoon in the Salt Palace, the Jazz delivered a 101-87 victory over the world champions with a national TV audience watching.
Miami? A distant memory, and not just because of all the snow in Utah."That's the way we should be playing," said Darrell Griffith, after the Jazz shook off the road blues and a shaky start to push the Lakers aside.
And was this great scheduling, or what? Coming back with a win over somebody like Sacramento or Philadelphia would hardly have reassured the public as much as the Jazz's comfortably handling the Lakers, who seemed perfectly willing to go along with the redemption plan.
Karl Malone's 31 points earned him and his mother a CBS postgame interview and Thurl Bailey's 22 also carried the Jazz, who defended and rebounded the way they did in frustrating the Lakers in the playoffs last May. James Worthy and Magic Johnson had 18 each for L.A., but Worthy cooled off and Magic - booed every time he touched the ball after a second-quarter exchange with Malone - disappeared in the second half as the Lakers lost a fifth straight road game.
What's this? Even the Lakers have trouble on the road? "What we're seeing is a replay our road play, and I don't have any answers for it," said Coach Pat Riley.
Jazz followers probably have a few suggestions, in the wake of their team's road struggles. Losing five of six games on the latest trip and closing with a convincing defeat at Miami caused all kinds of unrest.
"I'm sure the town had some worries about us," mused John Stockton.
"I spent all day trying to explain to people what happened in Miami," noted Coach Jerry Sloan. "I wasn't worried about what happened. I was a player; I know those things happen."
Guard Bobby Hansen had a long talk with Sloan after the Miami game and responded with his best outing since returning from a broken hand - eight points and 24 minutes of his trademark defense on Magic. "I wanted to go out and win for the poor guy," he said of Sloan. "He's feeling a lot of pressure that's undue. We have to go out and play. When you lose in this league, it seems like you're always being outhustled."
The Jazz changed all that Sunday, which Riley expected. "We knew we were going to see . . . an angry Jazz team," he said afterward.
The Lakers seemed in great shape when they led 17-9 in the first quarter and Stockton was out with foul trouble, but rookie Jim Les played his most important stretch of the season. His five assists helped the Jazz to a 23-9 edge with him in the game. Byron Scott, who had burned the smaller Les in the Forum earlier this month, forced shots that led to Jazz fast breaks.
"When John went out, maybe they took things for granted," noted Les.
When Stockton returned, he decided to forget about the fouls and play aggressively, which paid off at both ends. Fifteen of his 21 points came in the first half, when the Jazz took a 60-49 lead and shot 68 percent from the field.
That was actually a scary statistic for the Jazz, who had to start missing eventually. That happened in the third quarter when they went 6 of 16, but they kept a 12-point lead by working down the shot clock and recovering well defensively, allowing Mark Eaton to dominate inside. The Lakers needed Michael Cooper's three-pointer at the horn to hit 18 for the quarter.
"You can't allow teams to flatten you out and keep you from running your stuff," Riley said. "What we are doing is settling for what comes easy, and that's the perimeter shot."
The Lakers were as close as nine points early in the fourth quarter and their trapping defense was causing trouble, if not turnovers. Finally, the Jazz came up with a play they've needed for two weeks against the trap - Stockton's long, crosscourt pass to Eaton for a dunk and three-point play.
"When you move around down there instead of just standing, you have a chance to make those plays and break them down," said Sloan.
Down 87-73 after that play with 7:14 left, the Lakers were done. Their second-half totals: 12-of-35 shooting, 40 points. Johnson was 0 for 6 in the half.
That sounds about like the Jazz at Miami.
Actually, the Jazz's cool response to the Heat loss - not an emotional vendetta - is what did in the Lakers. "We're an experienced team, and we've all lost games like that before," noted Eaton.
And you thought those losses to the Clippers were worthless.
In any case, the Jazz (15-12) ended their slide toward .500 as they stay in town to play Sacramento Wednesday and Philadelphia Friday before going east again. The Lakers, meanwhile, have to go to Phoenix.
"This is still a mental lapse for us," said Worthy. "We're just not getting the job done."
And, hey, the road's tough. Just ask the Jazz.
JAZZ NOTES: Griffith was 2 of 19 from the field, continuing a slump that started, not coincidentally, with Hansen's return . . . Eaton outplayed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with nine points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes to Kareem's five points and one rebound in 23 minutes . . . Mike Brown dressed but did not play via a coach's decision, as rookie Eric Leckner backed up Eaton and Malone.