You've got to give Karl Malone credit. He is an equal opportunity critic. This season he has on occasion criticized his teammates when he has questioned their work ethic. He has on occasion criticized management for not being more aggressive. And last night, he turned on himself.
"I've got to look at me and say I'm not getting it done," Malone said after an 8-of-29 shooting night that coincided - not coincidentally, according to Malone - with the Jazz's 116-113 loss to the Golden State Warriors.The Mailman was on The Mailman's case. He stopped short of making it personal - "I have a bad game, I'm not going to stop liking myself," he said - but beyond that he was his own toughest taskmaster. He did not pull punches. He gave himself a sharp tongue lashing. He questioned his intensity. He wondered aloud about his ability to take the responsibility of leading the team. He stopped just short of docking his pay.
Even a career-high 23 rebounds didn't temper Malone's critique.
"My rebounds are not going to be tomorrow's headline, I can guarantee you that," he said. "Tomorrow's headline is going to be all those easy shots I missed."
And rightfully so, said Malone. "I had three dunk attempts that didn't go down," he said. "You miss five or six or seven in a row and you start rushing it and then you can't make a layup, you can't make anything.
"I need to get the job done and it didn't happen tonight. This team needs to get a lot more out of Karl Malone. Absolutely. Absolutely."
He was right about the rebounds going over everyone's headline. After the game a media army of about 20 surrounded Malone's locker stall and the subject of his alltime career high did not come up. Nor did Malone's six assists, two steals and blocked shot.
Some people go entire seasons in the NBA and don't get 23 rebounds. Some people go entire careers. If shooting slumps indeed have a swallow-up effect not unlike a black hole, this was more proof of that. Malone wasn't talking about rebounds any more than President Clinton has been talking about charitable acts lately instead of comments on Whitewater.
"I'm in a real live slump," said Malone, who has shot poorly for the past 10 games as the Jazz have won just two times. "The thing about a slump is, you can't give up. You've got to stick with it and work out of it."
In Malone's experience, the best way out of a basketball slump is to get out of basketball - for a day or two at least.
"The answer isn't going in the gym and pounding away at the problem," said Malone. "The answer for me is to get as far away from basketball as I can. That's what I need to do. I need to take the next two or three days to get away."
He stopped short of saying exactly where his self-imposed away-from-basketball suspension might be prior to the Jazz's next scheduled game Saturday night in the Delta Center against the Denver Nuggets. For two reasons. One, because he hadn't had time to think about it. And two, for security concerns.
"I tell you and maybe somebody will be there," he said to the assembled media. "Maybe you guys will be there."
The last thing a shooting slump needs is company.
Other than the 23 rebounds, another consolation for Malone was that the night got better instead of worse. After making just 2 of 16 shots in the opening half he was a more respectable 6 of 13 in the second half - and it was his follow-up basket (of his own miss) that gave the Jazz their last lead, 101-100, before the bottom fell out.
And there was one other positive note as Malone again reiterated that it is still his opinion that the current Jazz represent the best team he's played on in Utah. He likes his teammates' work ethic, and he likes the way management hustled to reel in guard Jeff Hornacek just in time for the playoffs.
"Things are in place," he said. "Now the main thing is to get Karl Malone going. That's what this team needs right now."