Start planning the parties and airport celebrations again. Break out the window stickers and the signs for the lawn. Utah's favorite spring diversion - the Jazz's eternal run for the championship - is on again just when it looked like the whole thing was off.
The Jazz beat the Rockets 93-71 Friday night in Houston, and now they're good to go. Sure, there's one more game left in the series, tied 2-2, but, as Hot Rod would say, count it. The Jazz are a sure thing.The series is over because . . .
. . . the Rockets folded up like an old lawn chair on Friday. They had an 11-point lead in the third quarter - and lost by 22 points. There was a time in the fourth quarter when it appeared they had never seen a basketball game, yet alone played in one. They had the Jazz right where they wanted them, on their home court, and fell to pieces.
. . . Hakeem Olajuwon, after having his way for more than half the game, scored this many points in the fourth quarter: zero. He was guarded by Greg Ostertag. Yes, old fat . . . oh, never mind. If Ostertag plays the way he did in last year's playoffs, the Jazz are back in business.
. . . Charles Barkley played like an overweight, thirtysomething guy with a hernia and a bum arm, when he played at all. Why? Because he IS an overweight, thirtysomething guy with a hernia and a bum shoulder. Barkley played only nine minutes but wore himself out walking back and forth to the training room three times to get that arm treated.
. . . the Rockets were no match for the Jazz's second string; don't even ask about stopping the starters. Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson turned the game around almost by themselves in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points apiece.
. . . games last 48 minutes, not 12, which is about as long as the Rockets can sustain a strong game. The game was tied at 59, then the Jazz proceeded to outscore the Rockets 34-12. The Rockets were wrong. When the pressure was on, they were the ones who panicked, not the Jazz, as they said when the series began. When the Jazz made their run, the Rockets looked like they were running a fire drill out there, casting up one hurried shot after another.
. . . The Jazz proved they can sleep walk through the early part of a game and still pull it out when they must. They spotted the Rockets a 21-10 lead in the first quarter, then outscored them 28-10 in the fourth quarter. That's called picking your spots.
. . . when nothing else was working, the Jazz used their heads. In the second half, Russell and Jeff Hornacek rammed heads. Russell wound up with stitches above and below his left eye; Hornacek had stitches above his right eye. There was a traffic jam in the hallway to the training room Friday night.
. . . Clyde Drexler played more like a 35-year-old college coach than a future Hall of Famer. He had 11 points, making just two of 11 shots. Let's see him explain shot selection to the Houston Cougars next fall to players who saw this game.
. . . the Jazz aren't about to lose another one on their home court in Game 5 on Sunday. The Rockets had their chance. They blew it. Next.
. . . 20,000 fans will be there to get under Barkley's thin skin.
. . . Karl Malone - remember him? - awoke in the second half and looked like, well, Karl Malone.
. . . Malone is attacking the basket occasionally, like a 6-foot-9, 260-pound forward should, instead of shooting nothing but 18-foot fadeaways like some 5-foot-9 guard.
. . . the Rockets have only one weapon - Olajuwon - and that isn't enough. They proved it Friday night.
. . . this is the best chance the Jazz will ever have to win The Title. They're not about to blow it now. The Rockets are finished. Count on it.