Let's see, where to start? How about Karl Malone scoring his 25,000th point? Or the Utah Jazz finally opening a long Eastern trip with a victory? Or John Stockton doing a back-atcha number on Minnesota rookie Stephon Marbury? Or the Jazz avenging an earlier loss to the Timberwolves here?
This contest had more angles than a game of eight-ball, and a score more deceptive than a referee's tax return. The Jazz defeated Minnesota, 115-106, but the score doesn't provide a true picture of the Utah effort, especially by Malone, Stockton and Bryon Russell.But first things first, and Malone's milestone deserves first mention here. With 5:53 left in the third quarter, Malone took a bounce pass from Jeff Hornacek and scored an uncontested layup for his 26th point of the game and the 25,000th of his career. In so doing, he became the fifth player in NBA history to accumulate 25,000 points and 10,000 rebounds. The other five are league legends: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes. When Malone joined that group, the Target Center public-address guy informed the crowd, which gave the Mailman an ovation.
"I knew that was it," Malone said of his milestone basket. "I'm glad the way they handled it. I'm glad they didn't stop the game, and I'm glad it's over with."
Asked if he expected to reach 30,000, Malone smiled and said, "I don't know. You think I'll last that long?"
Malone has been logging MVP-caliber performances routinely lately, and this game was no exception. He made 16 of 26 shots for 36 points, with 11 rebounds and eight assists. Sloan said he's no longer surprised by anything Malone does.
"With the body he has, this time of year his energy level stays really high," the coach noted.
Stockton's energy level also was way up there. After a December game in which Minnesota rookie Marbury scored 33 points against the Jazz, the Jazz veteran took some heat from certain media circles for not playing defense. But this time Marbury looked like he should have stayed at Georgia Tech. Like Malone, Stockton had a near-triple-double, with 26 points (seven of nine shots), nine assists, eight rebounds. He also had five steals.
Marbury, meanwhile, was a stumbling one-for-eight from the field, with three turnovers, two assists and eight points, when coach Flip Saunders yanked him for a long stretch. He returned for the final six minutes of the game, which effectively was out of reach by that point, and shot every time he touched the ball, which allowed him to score a team-high 21 points.
Sloan said Stockton remembered that last game.
"He knew he got beat," he said. "John doesn't like to lose, he doesn't like to let that happen."
It was obvious from the start that the Jazz planned to open this road trip in better fashion than they had in two previous Eastern excursions. They scored the first seven points of the game, led 19-9 and 31-17 before settling for a 33-21 lead at the first-quarter buzzer. Utah shot 62.5 percent (15 of 24) in that first period, while Minnesota made just four field goals.
Minnesota cut the Jazz lead to five late in the second period, right about the time Sloan was getting a technical from Luis Grillo for pointing out that his team had been whistled for 13 fouls, compared to a mere six for the T-Wolves. In fact, free throws were the only thing that kept this game from being a blowout - Minnesota enjoyed a 21-7 free-throw advantage in the first half, 48-28 for the entire game.
Utah came out smoking again in the third quarter, opening up a 25-point lead before some lackadaisical play allowed Minnesota to cut that advantage to 15 in a mere five minutes. That performance angered Malone, who went into the team huddle between the third and fourth quarters and chewed out certain teammates.
"The only thing I want myself and my teammates to do is match other teams' aggression," Malone said. "That's all. Don't back down. Don't do anything silly, but match other teams' aggression."
Asked specifically about his between-periods tirade, Malone said, "I don't want to talk about it. The message was sent."
No one would say at whom the tirade was aimed, but here's a guess: Antoine Carr and Chris Morris, both of whom were on the floor during that sluggish stretch. That duo combined to produce four points and one rebound in 21 minutes.
Sloan didn't mind Malone speaking out.
"He's not afraid to say that," the coach said. "He never has been. The guys that want to win take it, accept it and make something positive out of it."
Finally, Russell deserves a mention here. Besides knocking down four of five three-pointers for 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds, Russell also was a big reason that Minnesota leading scorer Tom Gugliotta made just two of seven shots for eight points.
"Bryon Russell played an excellent game," Sloan said, coming dangerously close to gushing. "He had to guard Gugliotta, which is a big assignment for him."
The Jazz next play the Hawks on Tuesday in Atlanta.