The NBA office has finally acknowledged the Jazz's best season ever, giving Karl Malone the league's player of the week award Monday.

Malone averaged 33.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in wins over Denver, Houston and Portland as the Jazz clinched the Midwest Division championship last week. The award was the Jazz's first of the season, in the 23rd week of the season. Last year, they had four players of the week and two players of the month."We finally get one," said Malone, who came back with 34 points against the Clippers Monday.

***

The latest on the Western Conference playoff picture:

Denver now looks like the most likely No. 7 finisher - and first-round Jazz opponent, although almost anything could happen in the last six days of the season. Only two games separate No. 4 Seattle and No. 7 Denver.

Houston's win over San Antonio put the Rockets half a game up on Denver, but the Nuggets would have the tiebreaker edge. The deciding game could be Wednesday, when Houston plays at San Antonio.

Mathematically, the Jazz could still catch the Lakers for the second-best record in the Western Conference; the magic number is one. Phoenix has closed out the Jazz, though, because the Suns own the tiebreaker edge over them. In the Pacific Division battle between the Lakers and Suns, the loser is the Jazz's probable second-round opponent. The Lakers have a one-half game lead and could probably still claim the title via the tiebreaker even if they lose one of the remaining four games.

- Kurt Kragthorpe