The Jazz's promotional tour for the Western Conference playoffs took a wild turn Friday night in the Forum. After taking a tough loss at
Phoenix, the Jazz came back with a 99-97 shocking of the Los Angeles Lakers.Karl Malone's right-corner jump shot - exactly the same shot he missed in a one-point loss at New York in December - with two seconds left delivered the victory. Magic Johnson's corner heave at the horn was too long, and the Jazz danced off the court with their first regular-season Forum victory since November 1983. It's also the first time they've won the regular season series with the Lakers, as they took three of the four games.
The Jazz's magic number for winning the Midwest Division is five, entering a two-game series with Denver - starting tonight at McNichols Arena. The Lakers and Jazz could only meet in the Western Conference finals, the way things stand. "Let's hope we get that far," said Laker coach Pat Riley.
Phoenix would be in the way of such plans. Friday, the Jazz showed the cool they were missing against the Suns - as Phoenix Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, in town to play the Clippers tonight - watched approvingly from the press table.
Johnson's three-point play with 25 seconds left had tied the game. The Jazz went immediately into their last play, with John Stockton dribbling outside to run down the clock, working off a screen, driving down the lane and feeding Malone. "As usual, the Lakers never let you get anything for free," said Stockton.
Malone was ready to shoot; he caught the ball and went right up and the 18-footer was true all the way.
Aside from six turnovers, Stockton had almost a perfect game - 7 of 7 from the field, 10 of 11 from the line, 11 assists, 24 points. Malone also had 24 in a classic illustration of Sloan's take-only-good-shots demands. The Jazz were 21 of 28 in the second half; for the game, they were 36 of 60 (.600), a franchise record for fewest shots.
Johnson and James Worthy had 24 points each for the Lakers.
An afternoon earthquake in Orange County caused slight trembling around the Forum. Coach Jerry Sloan, Stockton and the Jazz had about the same impact. Sloan benched struggling 73-game starter Darrell Griffith in favor of Bobby Hansen, while Stockton drew the first technical foul of his 402-game NBA career in the first quarter.
And the Jazz broke a 12-game losing streak - not counting the '88 playoffs - in the Forum.
"I had to try something different," Sloan said of the lineup change.
Hansen responded well, breaking out of his own slump with 12 points and good defense on Magic. "I would prescribe a dose of the Lakers," Hansen said of his ailment. "I love playing against them."
Griffith took only four shots in 17 minutes, but made two important fourth-quarter jumpers.
After making no lineup changes in his first 50 games as head coach, Sloan has switched twice in two weeks - going from Marc Iavaroni and Griffith to Mike Brown and Hansen.
The latest change helped in the first quarter when Hansen made a baseline jumper and three-pointer, but that was not the biggest news. After being knocked down on a play that led to a Worthy dunk at the other end, Stockton received his historic technical from rookie referee Nolan Fine.
Stockton's streak was amazing, considering he's one of the more vocal Jazz players.
Later in the quarter came two breakaway fouls - A.C. Green clobbered Stockton and Malone, less obviously, hacked Michael Cooper. Cooper missed a three-pointer at the horn on the following Laker possession, but the Lakers still had a 26-22 lead.
Instead of trading baskets in the second quarter, the teams traded streaks. The Jazz opened with six straight; the Lakers answered with eight. The Jazz scored eight to tie the game; the Lakers came back with eight for a 49-41 halftime lead.
Johnson's two drives led the Lakers' decisive run, after Hansen had held him down for most of the half.
The Jazz started a nine-point run in the third quarter when Johnson briefly went to the locker room with an injured finger, but seemed in trouble when Eaton and Malone went to the bench with four fouls. Eric Leckner's three straight shots helped keep them in the game; the Jazz made their first 10 shots of the quarter and finished 12 of 15.
The Lakers took a 75-71 lead into the final quarter, thanks to two baskets after steals that followed Jazz defensive rebounds.
Two more Leckner baskets tied the game, and the Jazz made their move as Malone went to work inside. When Eaton made two free throws with 2:25 left, they were up 93-87. The picture changed when Magic was fouled on his next two drives, while Stockton was called for an offensive foul.
Stockton's bad pass led to Byron Scott's layup, but Malone scored on a one-hander. After Worthy made a layup, Malone restored the three-point lead with two free throws with 37 seconds left. That's when things really became interesting.