Jerry Sloan sat down safely on the first row of seats behind the bus driver after the Utah Jazz's arrival in Michigan on Saturday evening. But you'd have thought his life was in danger, the way the players reacted.

"What are you doing, coach?" someone called out."You can't sit there," another player from the back of the bus yelled. Others agreed wholeheartedly.

Sloan, knowing exactly why the players were protesting his choice of seats, obediently moved across the aisle to the first row on the passenger side of the bus - even though it gave him less leg room. It's tradition-superstition, you see, for Sloan to sit on the front row opposite the driver.

And when you've won seven consecutive road games - make that eight after Sunday morning's 109-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons - you don't alter routines, even if a slight change could make the coach a bit more comfortable on a 20-minute bus ride.

Sunday's nationally televised victory was Utah's 10th in a row. The Jazz, without question the hottest team in the NBA, have now won 17 of their last 18 games and own the second-best record in the league - just one game behind the Seattle SuperSonics.

Pistons coach Alvin Gentry came away from his team's loss at the Palace of Auburn Hills as a Jazz believer.

"That's a helluva basketball team," said Gentry. "I thought we played pretty well, to be honest. We shot 49 percent, we rebounded well and we didn't turn the ball over. This one wasn't us, it was them."

Detroit star Grant Hill came away equally impressed.

"I really don't think we played badly," said Hill. "(Utah) just played better. That was a tough game because any time you make a mistake, they make you pay."

Jazz forward Karl Malone continued his torrid post-All-Star Game pace with 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two inflammatory national television interviews.

The Mailman discussed themes he's been stewing over since training camp in separate interviews broadcast Sunday by NBC and ESPN. Among other things, Malone talked about injured Jazz center Greg Ostertag's work ethic (or lack thereof), how team owner Larry H. Miller made him mad by talking publicly about certain younger players being the "future" of the Jazz and of how he won't hesitate to leave Utah when his contract expires at the end of next year if a dominant center isn't around. (See related story on D8).

While Malone has been the main man during the current Jazz streak, he had plenty of help against the Pistons. Six Jazzmen scored in double figures and that doesn't include center Greg Foster, who had one of his best games of the year with eight points and eight rebounds.

"The key for me is to go out there and have fun," said Foster. "The last couple of games have been fun for me. The team is starting to get together on the same page, and we're only going to get better because of it."

The Jazz, behind Malone's 14 points, led the Pistons by five at halftime. Then Utah guard Jeff Hornacek got hot to help put Detroit away. Hornacek, who missed the previous two games due to a sore left knee, scored nine third-quarter points as the Jazz opened up a double-digit lead. He added nine more points in the fourth quarter to help ensure the Pistons didn't rally.

"It felt good to get back out there," said Hornacek, who finished with 22 points. "I felt good from the start, but in the second half the shots just started falling for me."

Jazz guard Howard Eisley, a Detroit native who had numerous family members and friends at the game, finished with 11 points and seven assists.

"I finally made some shots, thank goodness," said Eisley, who broke out of a personal slump by making 4-of-6 from the field - including two 3-pointers. He was just 4-for-17 combined in Utah's previous two games.

John Stockton also had 11 points and seven assists, while Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson pitched in 10 points each.

Hill scored a game-high 29 points, but 11 of those came late in the fourth quarter when the Jazz had the victory well in hand. Center Brian Williams had a big night with 24 points and 14 boards, while Jerry Stackhouse scored 19 points off the bench for the Pistons.

The Jazz traveled after the game in preparation for tonight's Midwest Division battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The T'Wolves are without injured forward Tim Gugliotta but still have a pair of young up-and-coming players in Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett.

Sloan, no doubt, will be in his proper seat on the short bus ride from the team hotel to the Target Center. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

West race

Team W L Pct GB

Seattle 48 15 .762 -

Utah 47 16 .746 1

L.A. Lakers 45 18 .714 3

San Antonio 43 21 .672 5 1/2

Phoenix 43 21 .672 5 1/2