Michael Jordan has produced another MVP-caliber season and is the sentimental choice for the award, seeing as this may be his last NBA season and all.

But Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone, the defending MVP, still has his supporters - including the guy he sees when he looks in a mirror.Would Malone, if he had an MVP vote, cast it for himself?

"Absolutely," the Mailman said recently. "I think I'm playing better than I played last year. Unfortunately, there isn't the MVP build-up for me like there was last year because everybody has jumped on the Michael Jordan bandwagon because this may be his last year and all that. There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to get it. I'm not saying that Michael doesn't deserve it. He's had an MVP-like year and so have I."

Actually, the Mailman not being named MVP could be a good thing for the Jazz's championship hopes. Last season Jordan used the fact that Malone won the MVP instead of him as motivation in the Finals. He was brilliant in leading the Bulls to a fifth championships in the 1990s.

Malone seems to play better when he's mad, too. One notable example dating a few years back was when A.C. Green was selected to start in the 1990 All-Star game instead of Malone. The Mailman, upset by the snub, went off for 61 points in little more than three quarters of play against the Milwaukee Bucks in his next game out.

MAYBE SECOND ISN'T SO BAD: The Jazz and Sonics are battling for the top record in the Western Conference, but what awaits the winner may not be such a good thing after all.

Sure, the winner will get the homecourt advantage through the playoffs. But that doesn't do much good if you are knocked out in the first round, now does it?

It's starting to look like the Houston Rockets won't be able to catch Minnesota and will enter the playoffs as the eighth seed. That means the reward for finishing with the best record in the conference will be a first-round series against the Rockets.

Some reward. While Houston has struggled this year, it has a veteran team - with three of the 50 greatest players of all time on the roster. Clyde Drexler, the new coach of the University of Houston Cougars, may have extra motivation to finish his NBA career in style. Charles Barkley is still dangerous, while Hakeem Olajuwon, if healthy and on his game, is the most unstoppable offensive player on the planet whose initials aren't "M.J."

Jazz fans may point to the fact that Utah swept Houston this season, but don't kid yourself. The Rockets were injury- or suspension-depleted in those games. Even without Olajuwon, Kevin Willis and Mario Elie, the last time the Rockets played the Jazz, Eddie Johnson nearly single-handedly led Houston to a victory in the Delta Center.

The second-place team in the West will likely play Minnesota. While the Timberwolves have a pair of talented youngsters in Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett, their most consistent player, Tom Gugliotta, is out with an injury. Plus, they don't have much playoff experience.

LOOKING BACK: Utah went 3-1 last week, but the loss was costly. The Jazz had control of its own destiny when it came to homecourt advantage in the conference playoffs, but they lost it when Seattle beat them by two points on Wednesday night. The Sonics and Jazz are now tied for the best record in the West, but Seattle holds the tie-breaker edge thanks to a better mark in the conference.

The Jazz rebounded from the Seattle setback by beating the Trail Blazers (for the first time in four tries) and then completing four-game sweeps over the Nuggets and Grizzlies.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Jazz have another busy week with four games. They face Golden State in Oakland on Tuesday before returning home to face the Spurs on Wednesday and the Clippers on Friday. They'll finish the week with a tough battle at Minnesota on Saturday.

The Spurs and Wolves will present more of a challenge, but the Jazz have won the second game of back-to-backs 10 straight times.

Projected record for the week: 4-0, which would give the Jazz a 59-18 mark overall.

Tuesday, Apr. 7

Golden State

8:30 p.m.

FSR

Road game

Wednesday, Apr. 8

San Antonio

7 p.m.

KJZZ

Home game

Friday, Apr. 10

L.A. Clippers

7 p.m.

FSR

Home game

Saturday, Apr. 11

Minnesota

6 p.m.

KJZZ

Road game