When the Utah Jazz glanced at their schedule prior to the season it looked like the third month of 1998 would be a death March.
It hasn't turned out to be that way. Utah opened the month on a five-game trip and came back unbeaten. Following three straight wins at home, they went back out on the road for yet another five-games-in-eight-days stretch.So far - with the exception of a bad night in Charlotte - so good.
With only this morning's NBC-televised game (10:30 a.m. tip) against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden remaining on the current trip, the Jazz are 11-1 in March.
The month that looked like it would, without question, be the toughest of the season for the Jazz has instead turned out to be the best - at least so far.
The Knicks, despite some recent problems, won't be a pushover. Utah still has games this month against Phoenix and Los Angeles at home as well as a pivotal road battle on the final day of March against the Seattle SuperSonics - their rival for the best record in the conference and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.
Yet the Jazz are doing their best not to get ahead of themselves.
"Right now we're still trying to get to where we need to be," said Karl Malone. "We'll keep trying to win ball games and not look ahead to anybody."
The Knicks own a 25-10 mark at the Garden this season but are only 2-2 during the first four games of their current five-game homestand. The two victories were by a total of five points to the 76ers and Hawks.
"It's a big game on national TV, so we'll have to be ready," said Jazz center Greg Foster.
The Knicks will be without Patrick Ewing, who has been on the injured list for most of the season with a wrist injury.
The Jazz will be without reserve center/forward Antoine Carr, who returned to Salt Lake City on Saturday to have his strained right hamstring re-examined.
Utah beat the Knicks with ease in the Delta Center, 94-78, last month in a game in which the Jazz led by as many as 34 points. It was overshadowed by the Jazz's off-court dealings, however, as it was on the night Utah voided the Rony Seikaly trade with Orlando. Foster and Chris Morris, who had already practiced with the Magic, were returned to the Jazz.
Foster, who said he struggled for a few weeks upon his return in part because he was feeling sorry for himself following the trade, is now playing his best ball of the season. In the past five games Foster has averaged 10 points and 7.4 rebounds.
Greg Ostertag, meanwhile, will be gradually worked back into the lineup. The 7-foot-2 center who missed 17 games with a stress fracture to his lower left leg, has averaged four points and three rebounds in 8.5 minutes in his two games since coming back.