The Mailman Mystery continues. Jazz forward Karl Malone refused all interview requests again Friday in the wake of the Jazz's loss to Portland in the opening game of their playoff series.
Game 2 is tonight in Memorial Coliseum and Malone will try to shake off his worst shooting game of the season. He was 5 of 22 from the field in a 108-96 defeat Thursday, after which he declined any comment. Malone did the same thing twice before in his career after being ejected from games in Dallas and Denver this season.After practice Friday, he again would answer no questions, later explaining he was worried about saying something that could come back to haunt him and that he was putting too much pressure on himself in the playoffs. "I just need to clear up some things in my mind," he said.
"It bothered him a little," teammate Bobby Hansen noted of the Game 1 results. "He seemed to shoulder a lot of it, but it was no one person's fault."
Like Coach Frank Layden's occasional no-comments, Malone's probably resulted partly from his treatment by referees Jess Kersey and Mike Mathis. He made 6 of 7 free throws in the first half but never went to the line in the second half.
"That seems incredible for a post-up player," mused Layden.
But while Malone did draw a technical foul, Layden attributed the Mailman's frustration to the style of game, not any personal persecution by the officials.
"I think Karl was taken out of the game by the officials," said Layden. "They allowed them to be very physical with him. That's not a complaint I don't need another fine. They allowed rough play at both ends . . . that's the kind of game that was played."
In any case, Malone's playoff performance is already threatening to tarnish his season, just like last year. In the first-round series with Golden State, he shot only 42 percent from the field and played poorly in Game 5 while being bothered by an ankle injury. His 16 points four in the second half Thursday came against a Blazer team he'd dominated in the regular season.
And if Malone doesn't start delivering, this series will be over in a hurry for the Jazz. They lost by 12 in Game 1, even with Thurl Bailey scoring 31 and John Stockton adding 20.
"We're very fragile, and we can't play without any of our people having a good game," said Layden.
Caldwell Jones and Maurice Lucas shared the defensive assignment of Malone, with Terry Porter's work on Stockton also disrupting the Jazz offense. "We were able to do the things we set out to do," noted Portland Coach Mike Schuler. "The game plan was carried out extremely well . . . We made (Malone) take some extremely tough shots, and that's what we'd hope."
Will the Mailman come back? Against Golden State, he caused himself trouble by starting the famous fight with Greg Ballard after Game 2 and becoming a villain in the Bay Area and the focal point of the series. Against the Blazers, he faces pressure only because he averaged almost 34 points a game them this season.
Asked if he expects another off night from Malone, Schuler said, "Absolutely not. You know he's going to be fired up to play." Layden took Malone aside after the game and told him not to worry, but he has to be concerned about the Mailman's playoff form. When informed of Malone's stance with the media, Layden said, "Good, I hope he's mad."
Certainly, Malone had a history this season of recovering from bad games. He scored fewer than 20 points only nine times. The Jazz players expect their leading scorer to come back strong. "Portland was lucky to win by 12 with that happening," said Hansen. "Karl's the type of kid who will come out with fire in his eyes."
The playoffs mean less scoring, more halfcourt offense and more physical play and all that takes away from Malone, who runs the floor so well and is really mostly a finesse scorer. He'll have to respond better tonight.
He liked what he saw from his playoff-style defense, but Schuler said, "The key is whether we can do it again."
About that, Malone will have a lot to say.