Charles Barkley won't play in today's game. He has a torn triceps muscle to go along with the hernia he already had.
Still, Karl Malone and other Jazzmen aren't so sure."I don't buy it at all," said Malone, of Barkley's reported injury. "We're not going to fall for that old trick."
Actually, Malone hates the idea that Barkley being injured will give Houston one more reason why they shouldn't win today. It did not sit well with the Mailman that many observers pointed to the fact that the Jazz rally on Friday night came at about the same time Barkley left the game.
That, he insists, is just an excuse.
"I hate excuses," said Malone. "I hate people talking about people being hurt. . . . Everybody has an excuse why they don't win. We don't have them. When people play the Jazz they've always got them and I'm tired of hearing that (crap)."
KEEPING THOSE EYES OPEN: The Jazz's chartered flight from Houston landed at about 3 a.m. on Saturday. Even though the three-hour flight was during the middle of the night and the players had plenty of room to stretch out and sleep, center Greg Ostertag didn't get any shuteye.
"I didn't sleep at all on the plane," said Ostertag. "I don't sleep on planes - or at least I try not to - because if I'm going down I want to know it. I don't want to wake up in the middle of a dive."
BEAUTY MARKS: Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell smacked into each other late in the third quarter of Friday night's game. Both had to leave the court due to cuts and were stitched up - Hornacek above his right eye and Russell both above and below his left eye. Both players could have returned but weren't needed.
Their coach feels the collision may do his players some good.
"Those guys have a lot of work that needs to be done on those heads anyway - like me," said Jerry Sloan. "They get a couple of knots like that and it will make them look pretty tough."
DAWG AMNESIA: Barkley was hurt on a play in which he was inadvertently elbowed by Jazz reserve center Antoine Carr in the second quarter. The Jazzman doesn't recall the exact incident, however.
"I really don't remember it, to tell you the truth," barked the Big Dawg. "I haven't seen it on replay even. I'd like to (see it), to see what happened, because he's a good friend of mine and I hate to see him go down like that."
While Carr is sorry to see Barkley out, he's not so sure it will be to the Jazz's advantage.
"It doesn't change anything," he said. "Kevin Willis is a very capable player and it just means he's going to be out on the floor more."
RED-CROSS ROCKETS: Houston coach Rudy Tom-jan-o-vich would love to have Barkley available for Game 5. However, he's getting used to working with different lineups. Over the past two seasons, the Rockets have lost 559 player-games to injuries or illness.
"We come down to the injury factor again," Tom-jan-o-vich said after learning of Barkley's arm. "It's been a tough year."
After reaching the Western Conference finals last season, the 1997-98 Rockets went 41-41 as injuries forced several stalwarts out of action. The injury list included Hakeem Olajuwon (34 games), Barkley (14 games) and Clyde Drexler (12 games). Reserve Othella Harrington was the only player available for all 82 games this season.
LAST STAND? The Utah Jazz may hold the distinction of being the final opponent for future Hall of Famers Drexler and Barkley. Drexler has already announced plans to retire at season's end to become the head coach at the University of Houston. Barkley, meanwhile, is the subject of retirement speculation. The 35-year-old becomes a free agent in July and faces two offseason surgeries - one to repair a hernia, the other to fix his torn right triceps.
Drexler, who unlike Barkley is expected to play today, isn't planning on ending his 15-year pro career in the Delta Center.
"We've won up there before (in Game 1)," he said. `I expect to be playing here (in the Compaq Center) again."