The Reunion Game became a mismatch between the Jazz and their farm club, the Charlotte Hornets. Kelly Tripucka unwisely riled up Karl Malone by telling Fat Frank jokes in the newspaper - supposedly - and wearing his coach's name on his shoes. John Stockton, the tunnel-vision guard, was actually distracted by going against Rickey Green. Dell Curry was released from the doghouse long enough to take a few shots.
In the end Monday night before 23,388 in sold-out Charlotte Coliseum, the former Jazzmen were harmless against the modern-day version. The '89 Jazz coasted to a 114-92 win that left Charlotte followers a little worried, with this logic: If the the Jazz can lose to the other expansion team by 21, what does this say about the Hornets?The Jazz meanwhile, can assure everybody that Charlotte is OK by doing the same thing at Miami Tuesday night, when they try to respond to last month's 23-point Heat loss. "We owe 'em," says Malone.
Malone racked up 38 points and 19 rebounds against the Hornets, who were supposed to be the avenging ones against the Jazz. Here were Tripucka, benched in Utah for two seasons; Green, who could have played out his career as Mr. Jazz but fell out of management's favor; and Curry, traded after a fairly promising rookie season.
So much for that angle. Tripucka led the Hornets with a quiet 19 points, while Green and Curry were the No. 3 players at their positions on the Charlotte depth chart.
"This was just another game; you try to treat it like any other," said Tripucka.
So did the Jazz, who came back from a dismal outing at Milwaukee Saturday. They cracked down defensively from the and led by 27 at the half, thanks to a 32-13 second quarter. The Coliseum crowd, already the talk of the NBA and credited for the Hornets' eight home wins, was never involved.
"Judging by what happened in Miami, you want to take the crowd out early," said the Jazz's Marc Iavaroni.
"We were active defensively, which helped us get some easy baskets," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
This was almost too easy, as the Jazz went eight trips while scoring only a technical free throw in one second-quarter stretch, but still dominated. Even Dick Harter said, "I didn't think they played particularly good."
Harter is Charlotte's head coach, which came as news to Malone. Informed that Tripucka had written "Dick" on the back of his shoes in response to the "Frank" in tribute to Layden on Malone's sneakers, Malone's response was: "Who's Dick?" Well, you know, Dick Harter.
Malone: "I don't even know who Dick Harter is."
Malone went on to rip Tripucka for his comments in Monday's Charlotte Observer. The story was harmless except for a joke about Layden, attributed to Tripucka, who denied saying anything for publication - he delivered the line when he stopped by the press room after a game. As for the shoes, Tripucka said, "That just goes to show I still have a sense of humor. I thought it was pretty funny."
Things are more bleak these days for Green and Curry, who was benched last weekend for his lack of defense - the same reason the Jazz traded him. Green, playing his usual 13 minutes, was fairly effective in a third-quarter stretch against Stock-ton.
"I just couldn't get over that," Stockton said of facing his former locker-room neighbor. "I played against this guy every day (in practice) for four years. I'm glad it was a wide-gap game, so any lapse in concentration wouldn't hurt."
With home wins over Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, the Hornets are competitive - only six of 23 losses are by more than 12 points. For now, at least, they're way ahead of Miami - although they could use a Karl Malone. Or even someone to slow him down.
Having knocked Kurt Rambis out of the Lakers' starting lineup in the playoffs last May, Malone went to work on him again. "We didn't have the answer for Malone," said Harter, after the Mailman had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first quarter alone.
The Jazz had an easy time, without taking much advantage of matchups involving Mark Eaton and Thurl Bailey, who had 14 points against Tripucka and Robert Reid. Stockton had 12 points and 10 assists, while Jim Farmer continued to look like the best 10-day investment in NBA history and rookie center Eric Leckner had his moments.
Farmer had career highs of 13 points and 21 minutes - he never did this in Dallas - and Leckner had nine points, six rebounds and more, uh, advice from Sloan.
"I've known all along that if I could get some playing time and get confidence and get comfortable, that I could play," said Farmer. "That's what's happened here."
Memo to the Jazz front office: Sign this man for the rest of the season.
Sloan, meanwhile, has stayed in Leckner's back pocket for roughly five months; he must figure the rookie's worth the effort. "Work ethic . . . he's got the skills," said Sloan. "He's got to be more aggressive, and go after people harder."