Remind the Utah Jazz to send a belated Valentine's card to the NBA's schedule maker.
The Jazz picked up perhaps their best road victory of the year Saturday night against the Seattle SuperSonics - a 111-91 win in Key Arena - and moved back into the division lead in the process.The Jazz seem to like playing in the land of rain, grunge rock, Dr. Frasier Crane and gourmet coffee. It was their third consecutive victory in Seattle, including their 2-0 mark in the Emerald City last season.
The Sonics, owners of the best record in the NBA this year, looked like a tired basketball team - with good reason. The game ended a four-game-in-five-night stretch for the Sonics in which they played at Houston, at San Antonio and at the Lakers before facing the Jazz at home.
"Whoever made that schedule should be spanked," said Seattle coach George Karl. "I think he fell asleep at the computer on this one or something. I don't know how we got this schedule."
Karl said he'd be happy with a 2-2 record in the four games following the All-Star break. But that was before his team won two of the first three - beating both the Spurs and the Lakers in heart-stopping fashion. It took overtime for the Sonics to down the Los Angeles on Friday night.
Even though the Sonics finished with the 2-2 mark Karl had hoped for, the lopsided loss to the Jazz probably didn't sit too well with him. Seattle, which has a reputation as the best defensive team in the league, allowed the Jazz to shoot 57.9 percent on Saturday. Karl Malone was particularly impressive for the Jazz, scoring 34 points on 14-of-23 shooting from the field.
"We caught a break against them tonight," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek, who scored 22. "I'm sure it was tough for them coming off the games they've just played."
The victory, combined with San Antonio's home loss to Phoenix, put the Jazz alone atop the Midwest Division standings - an impressive accomplishment since they were 21/2 games back just one week ago. Utah is now 34-15, and the Sonics fell to 39-12.
The Jazz, now 2-1 against the Sonics, clinched at least a tie in the season series. The two teams will play one more time during the regular season, March 31 in Washington. Utah is on a four-game winning streak overall.
The Jazz shot 64 percent from the field in the first half - to Seattle's 43 percent - to take a 15-point lead, 55-40. Malone led the way with 17 points on 8-of-12 from the field.
Utah picked up right where it left off in the third quarter. The Jazz scored the first five points of the half to go up by 20 - 60-40 - with 11 minutes to play. A Jeff Hornacek 3-pointer two minutes later gave the Jazz a 65-43 advantage. Malone continued to dominate, scoring 17 points in the quarter - including the final four of the period to give the Jazz an 87-71 lead.
Greg Foster, who started at center in place of the injured Greg Ostertag, had a fine outing for the Jazz, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds. More importantly, however, Foster drew the defensive assignment against Sonics star Vin Baker. Baker was held to only 10 points and three boards on the night.
John Stockton scored 10 with 12 boards for the Jazz, while Bryon Russell added 11 points - and was 2-for-2 from 3-point range - off the bench.
Seattle was led by point guard Gary Payton, who scored 23 points with 10 assists and six boards - team highs in all three categories. Detlef Schrempf added 10 points with only four rebounds.
The Sonics could never get closer than 14 points in the final quarter and trailed by as many as 23. Both teams were able to clear the benches late and much of the sellout crowd headed home early.
William Cunningham even saw 90 seconds of action for the Jazz - and scored his first NBA hoop. Cunningham officially became a member of the Jazz on Saturday, signing a 10-day contract. He played on the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue team last summer, averaging 2.2 points and 3.4 rebounds.
The Jazz next play Charlotte at the Delta Center on Monday night at 7 p.m. Forward Anthony Mason, who was charged with statutory rape in New York last week, is out on bail and will be with Hornets.