Next time you hear the voice of Utah Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley saying, "At the end of three quarters the Jazz lead . . . ", you can turn off the radio, relax and know Utah has won. I don't honestly believe that any of you actually have that much faith, but with the 1998 Jazz you would be safe, particularly if John Stockton is on the court.

This year's Jazz team has accomplished a positively monstrous statistical feat when leading going into the fourth quarter. What follows is the definition of being winners.Make sure you're sitting down, because the basic statistics are enough to knock you out. And when you delve deeper into the numbers, they become even more unprecedented. Sixty-two times this year, Hot Rod has ended the third quarter with the aforementioned words, or something close, and 60 times the Jazz have won. Believe it - the Jazz are 60-2 when they lead going into the quarter.

So much for the NBA myth that all games are decided in the final period.

The Jazz ended the regular season with a 54-2 record in games they led after three quarters, and they are 6-0 in the playoffs. They are 37-1 at home and 23-1 on the road when they've been in front to open the fourth quarter.

What is more astonishing is that with Stockton in the lineup, the Jazz have not lost a game all season when they led going into the fourth quarter. That's right, not one. The Jazz are 50-0 when they lead going into the fourth quarter with Stockton on the floor. They were 29-0 at home and 21-0 on the road.

The two losses both came in November without the injured Stockton. The sixth game of the season, at San Antonio, the Jazz lost after holding a 65-62 lead to start the period, and in the 10th game of the year they blew a 78-70 lead to the Lakers when they were outscored 27-14 in the fourth quarter. The Jazz have won 34 straight games at home and 22 straight games on the road when they led going into the fourth. That's 55 straight overall.

The Jazz have played 81 games since they lost a game they led in the fourth quarter. The calendar has spanned nearly six months. Put into perspective, the Utes and Cougars hadn't played their yearly football rivalry, the NFL playoffs hadn't started, Latrell Sprewell was playing in the NBA, and we had never heard of the movie "Titanic." For that matter, we still believed "Seinfeld" would live forever.

The last time the Jazz lost a game when they led at the end of three quarters, with Stockton in the lineup, was June 13 at the United Center in Game 6 against the World Champion Chicago Bulls. Eleven months ago to-mor-row.

In fact, the Jazz lost more games where they led to open the fourth quarter in last year's NBA Finals (three) than they lost all this season. In Games 1, 5 and the decisive Game 6, the Bulls came back to win despite trailing entering the final stanza.

Those three dreadful losses may have sparked the Jazz into their newfound fourth-quarter dominance.

Fifty-five straight victories when leading going into the fourth quarter is an unthinkable statistic. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is almost exclusively to the credit of Stockton and Karl Malone.

Superstars win in the NBA, and the Jazz's two superstars won't let their team fail down the stretch. Coming from behind against the Jazz means you have to stifle these two future Hall-of-Famers while simultaneously scoring on the other end of the court.

Don't kid yourself with any deep analysis of these numbers; it's as simple as this: Superstars win in the NBA. Sunday was the NBA's equiv-a-lent of the Elite Eight, with all four playoff series in action and each game won by a superstar.

All four series were set at 2-1, and in each one a superstar grabbed the series by the neck and strangled any remaining life it had. The Mailman exploded for 34, one of his greatest performances ever.

Malone's 34 was highlighted by five big-time jumpers in the fourth quarter, including the dagger with 45 seconds left. Michael Jordan hit for 31, including eight straight in the fourth quarter. Reggie Miller's 38 was highlighted by his game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left and his back-breaking 3-pointer in overtime. Lastly, Shaquille O'Neal's 39 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five blocks amounted to probably the best outing of the day.

Don't kid yourself, superstars win in the NBA, and as long as the Jazz enter the fourth quarter with a lead and their two superstars, you can chalk it up in the win column. So I dare you to have the faith to say good night to Hot Rod when you hear, "After three quarters the Jazz lead . . . "

*****

Additional Information

Jazz record when leading after 3 quarters

Overall At Home On Road

1997-98 season 60-2 37-1 23-1

With John Stockton 50-0 29-0 21-0

Since Nov. 18 55-0 34-0 21-0