VENGEANCE, DRAMATIC thrillers and all the suspense that comes when you're one series away from the NBA Finals.

That's what the Los Angeles Lakers promised for their Western Conference finals against the Utah Jazz?Apparently they were talking about Game 2, because the Jazz did all the strutting in Saturday's best-of-seven series opener.

Using a game-high 29 points from Karl Malone and surprisingly solid play from their bench, the Jazz destroyed the Lakers, 112-77, in front of 19,911 happy fans at the Delta Center.

Game 2 is set for Monday night, but the Lakers may as well not show up if they plan to play as they did in the first 24 minutes on Saturday. That's when the outcome was decided. Now, the Lakers have 48 hours to erase visions of their nightmarish play.

"Well, it wasn't pretty folks," Lakers head coach Del Harris said. "It was a bad combination, with one team playing great and one team playing lousy. We'll look at film, lick our wounds, see if we can defend the pick-and-roll better and come back for game two.

"That's why they call this a series. If this was high school, we'd be out."

Stephen A. Smith

Philadelphia Inquirer

AFTER ALL THE pomp and pageantry surrounding Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers' inexorable march toward June, you could not have blamed John Stockton and Karl Malone for monitoring their heart rates with one hand and perusing their life-insurance policies with the other.

Here were the cornerstone veterans of the Utah Jazz, convalescing into the Western Conference finals against the awesome force of O'Neal. How would they stop Shaq? And what about all the other Laker kids who play above the rim?

"It's been documented, and you guys have reminded us, how well they've been playing," Malone said on Saturday after Utah leveled O'Neal and the Lakers, 112-77, in Game 1 of their four-of-seven-game series. "I've said it, too. One game doesn't change my mind about it. But we did execute today, didn't we?"

The first game of the fogies-versus-Huggies series was a reaffirmation of who owns the conference title and who has to grow up quickly if they plan to snatch it away.

O'Neal looked lost, and when he wailed for help, few adults could be found. After scoring more than 30 points a game against Seattle in the second round, he finished a demoralizing 6 of 16 from the field and committed 7 turnovers. He did not score a field goal until 10 minutes 15 seconds remained in the second quarter, and he finished with 19 points.

It was the Lakers' worst post-season beating, exceeding by 1 point a 148-114 loss in Boston in Game 1 of the finals on May 27, 1985 - the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers came back to win that series in six games.

Mike Wise

New York Times

News Service

THE BATTLE BETWEEN the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers to downplay the result of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was much closer than the game itself.

The Jazz, because they're smart, and the Lakers, because they're smarting, refused to accept the Utah's 112-77 win, a contest that was over by halftime and the most decisive playoff loss in the Lakers' franchise history, means anything more than the Jazz has taken a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"That's why they call it a series," said Lakers Coach Del Harris.

"I don't think this game is any indication of what we have to look forward to," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "We know who we are playing against."

They undoubtedly needed the names on the uniforms, though, to remind them today.

Ric Bucher

Washington Post

SOMEWHERE, WILT Chamberlain isn't just having himself a good laugh. No, the old guy must be picking himself up off the floor.

Those comparisons the Seattle SuperSonics made between Shaquille O'Neal and the Big Dipper never sounded more ridiculous than Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at the Delta Center.

Four days after George Karl said O'Neal was "more dominating" and "better than Wilt," the only Chamberlain that Shaq resembled in the Jazz' 112-77 romp over the Lakers was the present-day, 61-year-old former ballplayer.

"I didn't know they said that about me," Shaq said. "I don't listen to that stuff, anyway."

Was he honored?

"I don't care," he said.

It's a moot point now, anyway. The same one-man wrecking crew that destroyed the Sonics - averaging 31 points on 63 percent shooting with only 13 turnovers in 184 minutes - had more turnovers (seven) than baskets (six) and scored only 19 points in 35 underachieving minutes on Saturday. That tied his playoff scoring low for this spring.

Never again, Shaq vowed.

"I'm just going to start flaring my elbows," he said. "To become a Hall of Famer, I'm just going to start flaring my elbows. If they're going to let other people throw elbows, then we're going to throw elbows."

Better still, how about throwing the ball in the basket?

Mitch Lawrence

New York Daily News