Opening this morning on a television set near you: "March Road Trip II," starring Karl Malone, John Stockton and the rest of the Utah Jazz.
But as any film critic will tell you, sequels rarely live up to the original. The Jazz, after posting a 5-0 record on a similar five-game road swing earlier this month, will have a tough time equaling that mark the second time around.This week's trip opens today in a match against an underachieving yet capable group of Detroit Pistons. Tip-off for the NBC-televised battle is set for 10 a.m. MST.
The Jazz will then head, in short order, to Minnesota, Charlotte and Philadelphia. The final extended road trip of the season will be completed a week from today against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in yet another NBC game.
"The teams we'll be playing are a little bit more powerful than the ones on the last trip," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."
It will be difficult to duplicate the unbeaten record from their recently completed trip. But even though the red-hot Jazz went 5-0 on their previous journey east, they still don't think they played all that well. There is plenty of room for improvement, the team insists.
"Hopefully we'll play a lot better than we did the last trip," said Jeff Hornacek, who is expected to be back in action today after missing two straight games with a sore right knee. "I think we got away with a lot on the last trip. We played well enough to win, but that was it. If we play like that on this trip, it won't be as successful."
Still, the Jazz have plenty of confidence. "If we play the way we're capable of," said Bryon Russell, "we can do what we did on the last road trip."
The Jazz, in addition to getting Hornacek back, will also see the return of Greg Ostertag during this trip - although he won't likely be activated from the injured list prior to this morning's game. The Jazz's 7-2 center has been out a month with a stress fracture to his lower left leg. Utah has managed to do just fine in Ostertag's absence, however, going 14-1, including nine consecutive wins. Suddenly, Utah has the second best record in the NBA and are within striking distance - just 1 1/2 games back - of Seattle.
Detroit, meanwhile, showed this past week that it is capable of good things despite its losing record (29-34). The Pistons ripped Indiana - the second best team in the Eastern Conference - by 31 points on Wednesday night. They followed the win over the Pacers with a road victory over the much-improved Boston Celtics on Friday night. The Pistons are just four games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite numerous problems, including the midseason firing of coach Doug Collins. They are 8-10 since Alvin Gentry replaced Collins.
"We know Detroit is a tough team," said Jazz guard Shandon Anderson. "They have one of the best players in the league in Grant Hill, so they will always have a chance to beat you. We saw what they did to Indiana the other night, so we know we need to be ready."
Hill averages 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. In 12 different games this season he has led Detroit in all three categories. He's far from being a one-man team, however, as center Brian Williams (16.2 points, 8.9 rebounds), Joe Dumars (12.4 points, 3.7 assists) and Jerry Stackhouse (15.6 points) are also major contributors.