Pressure does funny things to people and to players, including superstars in the National Basketball Association. Thus far in the playoffs, Utah's Karl Malone and Co. have handled it well, rebounding from a stunning opening-game loss against Houston to win the series in a decisive fifth game. They then dispatched a tough San Antonio team in five games that included two nail-biters at home.

The Jazz annihilated Los Angeles in Game 1, then ground out a gutsy, gritty win Monday to go up 2-0. Momentum and chemistry seemed on their side and gaining steam. With Chicago ahead 2-0 in the East, many have already penciled in a Bulls-Jazz finale. With the rest of Utah, we hope so.Then, perhaps feeling a bit feisty or pouty or bored, Malone fires Wednesday's call heard round the world to Jim Rome on his national radio show. He talks of a trade, of no respect, of looking out for family, of burdensome expectations. Just speaking his mind, he claimed, which is fine. Many admire the Jazzman for that quality.

The timing, however, was strange, especially for someone who recently said he was only interested in playing basketball and that he didn't like all the talking and distractions. "Sideshows," he called it, something for which the Lakers have become infamous.

Following up on KSL-TV Wednesday night - defended by amiable sports anchor Craig Bolerjack at every turn - the Mailman noted he was clearing the air. He said those who needed to hear and heed his message - presumably including Larry Miller - would understand his point. We can only assume they will, though resolving those issues mano a mano would have been preferable to using Jim Rome's Jungle for negotiations.

Most importantly, Malone said speaking his mind would not affect his play or that of the Jazz. He guaranteed business as usual and complete effort come tonight at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles.

There is no questioning his exertion, but will this little sideshow disrupt Malone's rhythm or team chemistry?

He said his free-wheeling opinions "will not be an excuse" if the Jazz fall short of an NBA championship. Maybe not, but the world won't see it that way. Up a comfortable 2-0 and playing loose, the Mail-man has just invited a few more pounds of pressure onto his sizable shoulders. It will be intriguing to see if he delivers. We wish him well.