Hours before leaving on their craziest trip of the season, the Jazz closed out their expansion schedule Friday night in the Salt Palace as the Curse of the Off Guards continued and Jerry Sloan, Mr. Conservative, chose not to dress the Jazz in green and later rushed John Stockton and Karl Malone back into the game to protect a 16-point lead.
The Jazz ended up with a 118-96 defeat of Miami, winning their seventh in a row overall and breaking a franchise record with their 10th straight home victory.While the Jazz (41-23) can now go 9-9 the rest of the season and still win 50 games, they lost a little backcourt insurance when Jim Farmer broke the little finger of his left hand; he'll miss five to six weeks, according to trainer Don Sparks.
Curiously, Farmer's broken bone is about one inch away from the one Bobby Hansen broke in October, causing him to miss more than seven weeks. The injury is the latest trouble to strike a Jazz off-guard, continuing a 13-month hex. The list: Kelly Tripucka: torn calf, February. Darrell Griffith: knee surgery, March. Hansen: broken hand, October. Scott Roth: waived, December. Hansen: broken cheekbone, January. Bart Kofoed: waived without salary, January.
Like Hansen's, Farmer's injury came on a routine defensive play, when he bumped up against a Heat player. One of his most memorable plays as a Jazzman, a steal and breakaway dunk, came after the injury and before Sloan could replace him.
Six weeks would mean Farmer would barely be available for the first playoff game, so the Jazz may consider signing another player, although general manager David Checketts said before meeting with the coaching staff, "My sense is `no.' It's a spot where you risk more chemistry than it's worth . . . It'll give us a chance to get Bobby (Hansen) even more into the flow."
Sloan was able to play everybody several minutes against Miami, although the Heat had other ideas about letting the Jazz regulars watch from the bench in the fourth quarter. By cutting the Jazz lead from 25 points to 16 with 3:30 left, Miami forced Sloan to go back to the big boys for a while.
The way the Jazz have played at home since the All-Star break, winning nine of the 10 games by at least 14 points, has created this dilemma for Sloan, as if he didn't have enough to worry about: When and how much to substitute at the end of games?
"We weren't trying to run the score up on anybody," he said, raising the issue. "I'd like to get everybody in the game, but my job is to win games."
The Jazz took care of that with a late flurry in the first half and a strong inside game in the third quarter. They were up by two before Malone went to work at his usual spot against the Heat, the free-throw line, and helped them to a 53-40 halftime lead. He's averaged almost 15 free throws in six games against Miami, this time helping him score 31 points.
"After we got down to business, we did what we had to do," said Malone. "It's pretty hard to stop us inside."
Stockton added 16 points and 15 assists and Hansen had 14 points, while forward Billy Thompson led Miami with 15.
Already on this trip, the Heat collected their 10th win of the season Wednesday against the Clippers, assuring themselves of avoiding the all-time worst NBA record. "We've been there a few times now," Coach Ron Rothstein had said. "We're starting to be more comfortable with winning."
They almost caught the Jazz again. "I don't think we're as focused as we need to be when we play these teams," said Mark Eaton, although Sloan certainly was not about to fool around.
Twice while Sloan was Frank Layden's assistant, the Jazz dusted off the green uninforms they formerly wore on the road for St. Patrick's Day home games, but Sloan continues to place his no-gimmicks stamp on the team. They wore the regular home whites against the Heat, and now take a 51/2-game Midwest Division lead into a three-game trip - actually, by Sloan's travel method, a series of three one-game trips. The Jazz will come home in between games at San Antonio tonight, Seattle Tuesday and Houston Friday.
Miami knows all about western travel, playing this season in the Midwest Division. That meant eight games with the two expansion teams for the Jazz, who went 5-1 against the Heat and 1-1 against Charlotte. Before the season, would you have thought they could lose twice to the expansion teams and still win 50?
Next season, they'll have both Minnesota and Charlotte in the Midwest, besides facing Miami and Orlando.
Sloan, for one, knew what to expect from the Heat and Hornets this year. After all, he was once a hungry expansion player himself, joining Chicago after a frustratingg rookie season with Baltimore. "I know what an expansion team is; the desire you have, playing against an established team," he said. "Those are the easiest teams to coach, as far as I'm concerned . . . there's no tomorrow for guys on an expansion team. They're always going to play hard."
Sloan interviewed for the Heat job before knowing that Layden would quit coaching this season, but lost out to Rothstein. Then again, he's in an awfully good situation, with the Jazz only seven wins away from their best record ever, and closing in on their first division title in five years.
JAZZ NOTES: With first-half foul trouble, Eaton had only six rebounds to follow his 25 of Wednesday. All 10 of Thurl Bailey's rebounds came in the second half . . . A 7-foot-4 Jazz locker-room visitor: Emery High's Shawn Bradley . . . Jose Ortiz's eight minutes and six points were his most since Feb. 3.