If the Spurs think they were in a boiling pot at America West, wait until they get into the Delta Center.
The Jazz fans are waiting the arrival of David Robinson & Co. to make their first visit since the infamous "Night of the Elbow" April 8. That evening Karl Malone laid out Robinson with an elbow, and the incident stirred heated talk coast-to-coast.Malone won't discuss it anymore. Robinson says forget it. The Admiral's teammates were furious when they saw the replays, and lurking deep is their desire to come out and be physical and bounce the Jazz out of the playoffs.
Watch for a touching of hands and mumbled words between Robinson and Malone at the gathering before the tip to set a calming tone. It might not work.
The Spurs feel ready to turn the tables. Here's why:
- Jelling: San Antonio went through 16 starting lineups this season, thanks to recurring injuries, but they're now flooring a healthy rotation that blitzed the Phoenix Suns in four games.
- Options: Gregg Popovich can start his Tri-Towers Robinson, Tim Duncan and Will Perdue to close down the inside and strangle drivers and cutters. Or, if Jerry Sloan starts Bryon Russell, Jackson, an aggressive defender, can get the call.
Robinson will pull duty against Malone and now is free to concentrate primarily on his defense, letting Duncan be the focal point of the offense.
- Aggression: Popovich has stressed defense since taking over in December, and his team has seized on the concept. John Stockton will have to absorb bumps and grinds during his curls and cuts off the pick and roll.
The theme is to bump first and let the Jazz respond instead of the vice versa philosophy of past Spur visitors.
- The Missions: Robinson has title on his mind. "Sure, I've got something to prove. The championship is the one thing I don't have. I want to get it done," he has said. His backcourt friend, Avery Johnson, is on the same path. The guard had a brilliant series against the Suns and won't be taking any back seat to Stockton. He'll push the ball up relentlessly, and Sloan will depend a lot on Howard Eisley to come off the bench and slow him down a bit.
- Duncan factor: The Jazz are used to facing a Spurs' team with one primary scoring option - Robinson. Now they have to contend with the Rookie of the Year, Tim Duncan. The former Wake Forest star can score in the post with some Kevin McHale-type moves or shoot over defenders with his kiss-the-glass bankers. He can hit the mid-range jumper, causing problems for double teams.
This will be the Spurs' best chance to exact a little revenge here in Wasatch Mountain country. But shadows of disaster still lurk. Here are a few reasons why:
- Need the shot: The Jazz will continue to test San Antonio's outside shooting. Johnson wounded the Suns with his ability to put down medium-range shots and his romping through the lanes. But Sloan will have to see it to believe it, and Johnson's man, Stockton or Eisley, will be the primary helper on low-post defense until Johnson hurts them.
- The perimeter: Chuck Person will be vital. He hit nine 3-pointers in his last two games against the Suns, but he has been erratic. His misses will go fast the other way to charge up Utah and the Delta Center crowd. Same with Jackson. Too many 2 for 8 games will be fatal and leave the Jazz with another helper on the post defense.
- Memories: A Utah win in Game 1 will conjure up ghosts of playoffs past. The Jazz are confident after escaping the Rockets.
- The computer: The Spurs are jelling; the Jazz have been molded for years. Sloan taps in the signals and the Jazz synchronized offense functions like a Swiss watch. The varied options off the pick and roll still bedevil the Spurs. A rolling Malone, a curling Stockton, a Bryon Russell set up on the perimeter or Greg Foster slipping back door will frustrate the San Antonio defense.
- Malone's mind: Robinson, and especially Johnson, may be single-minded in their pursuit of advancement, but Malone also has Chicago and Michael Jordan wedged deep in his psyche. The Mailman doesn't believe he delivered enough in last season's Finals, and preliminary playoff foes already are paying the postage due. Malone will be an express train from the outset, and his trucking down the lane on fastbreaks, runs from the perimeter and post-up ferocity could mean early foul trouble for the Spurs.