You know it wasn't the most exciting basketball game in the world when a player's haircut seems to the primary topic of conversation in the post-game locker room.

But such was the case Friday night in the Delta Center. Back-up center Greg Ostertag's hair - or lack thereof - seemed to be the big story.The Jazz, as expected, drubbed the lowly Denver Nuggets, 97-75, in front of a sellout crowd of 19,911 euphemistically termed "subdued" by a member of Utah's public re

lations department. In other words, the crowd was as bored and restless as you might expect a crowd to be that had spent good money to see a game featuring one of the all-time worst teams in NBA history.

At least Ostertag was around to keep things interesting. If he wasn't plowing over point guards a foot shorter than him, than he was blocking shots and rebounding..

And the 7-2 center - now 7-1 - showed up to the arena completely bald. At the morning shootaround he had the exact same flat top he's worn since his sophomore year in high school. But sometime between 11 a.m. and tip-off he "got a wild hair," as he put it, and asked his barber to shave him clean.

As one might expect, Ostertag took some good-natured ribbing from teammates. One said he looked like a Nazi supremacist skinhead. Another called him "Grasshopper," a reference to the old "Kung Fu" television series.

Of course the bald look - favored by the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and even Utah's own Bryon Russell - has been popular in the NBA for years. But, as Shandon Anderson pointed out, "just not on white guys."

"It ain't cute," said Greg Foster of Ostertag's new 'do.

Still, for the second consecutive game, Ostertag turned in a solid performance. He grabbed eight rebounds, blocked seven shots and scored six points - on 3-for-4 shooting - in 24 minutes of play.

"Greg has played pretty well the last two games," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "He seems to be a lot more alive. . . . He got his hair cut, so we'll recognize him a little bit easier out there."

Ostertag missed 17 games due to a stress fracture to his left leg, losing his starting job to Foster in the process. Foster has been playing well enough to keep his starting job since Ostertag's return two weeks ago.

"Obviously, I want keep doing what I need to do to keep the starting job," said Foster. "If what I do on the floor pushes him to excel, that's great. It's all for the good of the team. In the end we all want W's anyway, no matter who starts or plays more."

The Jazz improved to 55-18 with the victory to remain one-half game behind the 56-18 Seattle SuperSonics for the best record in the Western Conference. The 9-65 Nuggets, with eight games remaining, still need one more win to avoid tying the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the all-time worst record in league history.

Several Jazz players admitted it wasn't an easy game to play. The crowd certainly wasn't into it and neither were the Jazz at the beginning. Denver jumped out to an early 18-13 lead. Utah rallied by the end of the first quarter to take a one-point lead, but there still was little emotion.

"We started off a little slow, but as we went on we picked it up," said Anderson, one of three bench players to notch double figures scoring.

The Jazz bench shot 77.7 percent from the field during the first half as they helped the Jazz to an eight-point lead at the intermission. Utah led by 14 at the end of three quarters before winning by 22.

"They didn't have a chance to win at all," said Russell. "It was one of those games where you just don't want to have anyone get hurt."

Karl Malone finished with a game-high 22 points, while Jeff Hornacek added 15. Anderson finished with a dozen points, while Russell and Chris Morris scored 11 each. Howard Eisley added nine assists in just 17 minutes.

The Jazz, who shot 54 percent as a team, held the Nuggets to 30-percent shooting.

"Utah is the best half-court execution team in the league," said Nuggets forward Laphonso Ellis, who finished with a team-high 17 points and 13 boards. "It's tough because they make you pay for missed opportunities offensively, whether it's a missed shot or a turnover. They're just the best in the business at that."

Next up for the Jazz will be another of the worst teams in the league. They play at Vancouver on Sunday evening.

*****

Additional Information

Game summary

Jazz 97, Nuggets 75

FG FT Reb

DENV Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

L.Ellis 39 8-17 1-2 3-13 1 1 17

Fortson 35 5-14 7-8 7-9 0 4 17

Garrett 30 1-5 4-4 0-7 0 3 6

Alexander 32 1-8 2-2 0-2 4 3 5

Goldwire 32 1-7 2-2 1-1 1 2 4

Newman 29 4-10 3-4 1-1 0 5 12

Jackson 21 2-11 0-0 2-3 4 2 4

Battie 5 1-2 0-0 1-1 0 3 2

Wolf 4 1-2 0-0 0-1 0 1 2

Stith 13 1-6 4-4 0-2 2 1 6

Totals 240 25-82 23-26 15-40 12 25 75

Percentages: FG .305, FT .885. 3-Point Goals: 2-10, .200 (Newman 1-1, Alexander 1-3, Goldwire 0-1, Stith 0-1, L. Ellis 0-2, Jackson 0-2). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 4 (L. Ellis 4). Turnovers: 9 (L. Ellis 3, Fortson 2, Alexander, Goldwire, Newman, Wolf). Steals: 10 (Fortson 3, Newman 3, L. Ellis 2, Alexander 2). Technical fouls: Illegal defense, 2:44, third; illegal defense, 4:26, fourth. Illegal defense: 1.

FG FT Reb

UTAH Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

Keefe 23 1-7 2-2 3-6 0 1 4

Malone 34 9-17 4-7 0-6 2 2 22

Foster 22 2-5 1-2 3-5 1 2 5

Hornacek 24 5-7 5-5 0-2 5 2 15

Stockton 27 2-4 1-1 1-3 7 3 6

Eisley 17 1-2 3-4 0-1 9 5 5

Ostertag 24 3-4 0-1 1-8 0 2 6

Anderson 24 5-8 2-4 0-4 4 0 12

Russell 25 3-5 4-4 0-7 0 2 11

Morris 16 4-6 2-3 1-3 0 3 11

Vaughn 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

Totals 240 35-65 24-33 9-45 29 22 97

Percentages: FG .538, FT .727. 3-Point Goals: 3-6, .500 (Stockton 1-1, Russell 1-2, Morris 1-2, Anderson 0-1). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 11 (Ostertag 7, Malone 2, Foster, Anderson). Turnovers: 17 (Foster 4, Malone 2, Hornacek 2, Eisley 2, Ostertag 2, Anderson 2, Keefe, Morris, Vaughn). Steals: 6 (Stockton 2, Anderson 2, Hornacek, Morris). Technical fouls: None. Illegal defense: None.

Denver 20 19 22 14-75

Utah 21 26 28 22-97

A-19,911 (19,911). T-2:04.

Officials-Tommy Nunez, Eddie F. Rush, Violet Palmer.

West race

Team W L Pct GB

Seattle 56 18 .757 -

Utah 55 18 .753 1/2

L.A. Lakers 54 20 .730 2

San Antonio 51 23 .689 4 1/2

Phoenix 48 25 .658 7