Mike Dunleavy would make a good secret agent.
Under no circumstances would he reveal why his Portland Trail Blazers are so successful against the Utah Jazz. Not even a 98-89 loss in the Delta Center Wednesday could get this guy to spill the beans.And why should he? Dunleavy's short-handed troops - playing without suspended star Isaiah Rider and injured center Arvydas Sabonis - had the defending Western Conference champions in a 79-all tie with less than seven minutes remaining. A victory would have given Portland a 4-0 season sweep of Utah, something no team has done since the Lakers did it 12 years ago.
"Who knows?" Dunleavy said when asked why the Blazers (40-32) give the Jazz (54-18) such trouble. Perhaps, he acknowledged, it has something to do with his team's size and hard play.
"(The Blazers) are a very lively team. They can block shots, they can run and they can use their athletic ability against you. That's why we have a hard time playing them," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "Everyone thinks they have to do it themselves, but when we execute we get a decent shot. I don't know why we go through stages when we forget to do that."
Down the stretch, however, Utah's memory banks were at full capacity. In their three losses in the series, the Jazz were out-rebounded by an average of 6.4 boards per game. And though the Blazers also won Wednesday's rebounding battle (42-37), Utah pulled down seven of 13 over the pivotal closing minutes.
Karl Malone said the Jazz just did the things they needed to do.
"You've just got to put a body on those guys," he said. "They're lively. They're young, and they get up and down the floor."
Playing without Rider, who did not make the trip after being "excessively late" for practice Tuesday, and Sabonis, who logged 13 minutes before injuring his right hip while diving for a loose ball, Portland managed to force nine lead changes and tie the game on 12 occasions.
"I was pretty pleased with our effort. I thought that being short-handed the way we were that our guys battled," Dunleavy said. ". . . (The Jazz) are a good team and I'm just glad to have been in the hunt with them tonight."
As if he had any doubt.