THAT NEW RECORD deal that's been hanging over your head? The one you couldn't find time to get to? Go ahead, Shaq. Warm up the studio. Kobe, you can still accept that invitation to the graduation prom. And Elden . . . Elden? Missing in action again?
It's too bad, but we'll have to catch your act next year. All that talk of coming of age? In basketball terms, you're still in puberty. Come back when you grow up, guys.As they say in Hollywood, it's a wrap.
Friday night at the Great Western Forum the Jazz won 109-98 in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, putting the Lakers in a terrible spot. How bad? Bad enough that nobody in the history of the NBA has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. It would take an act of Magic to bring the Lakers back in this one.
The outcome moved the Lakers to the brink of elimination in the playoffs and, for all intents and purposes, put Utah in the NBA Finals for the second straight year. Utah is one game away from ending the Lakers' season for the second straight year. The odds on the Jazz losing this series are the same as the odds on "Godzilla" failing at the box office.
Friday verified what the Jazz have insisted for years: that experience and discipline stand a good chance against youth and talent. The Jazz were deeper, more experienced, smarter, cooler and everything the Lakers weren't.
Someday the Lakers will be a wonderful team. But for now, they're still in school. Whenever it's the Jazz and Lakers in a game, it's style vs. substance. On the one side, you have guys who have their own recording contracts. On the other side, you have guys whose idea of glamor is a necktie that doesn't clip on.
On the one side you have Shaquille O'Neal, driving a Lincoln Navigator with the Superman logo on the hood. On the other side you have Jeff Hornacek, picking up his kids in a mini-van. It's big city vs. small town.
The Jazz had too much patience, too much bench and too much tough. Karl Malone got 24 points, 20 in the second half. Bryon Russell had 17 points, including the clinching trey with 1:37 left in the game. Shandon Anderson and Chris Morris came off the bench to score 13 and 14 points, respectively. The Lakers had, well, a headache.
After three games in the series, one thing is clear: the Los Angeles Lakers - the team of the future - are still just that. The present is Karl Malone and the Jazz, who have flustered the Lakers at every turn. They've out-coached, out-played, out-hustled and out-smarted the Lakers. Instead of giving the Jazz a difficult time and pushing them to the limit, the Lakers have merely stirred, snorted a couple of times and gone back to sleep. Wake 'em when it's over.
For a team filled with twentysomething superstars, the Lakers have been strangely ineffective. They never have adjusted to the Jazz's exacting style of play. And, of course, they haven't adjusted to Malone, who rode into town this week in a surly mood. He started things off by speculating on L.A. radio host Jim Rome's show that he might end his career playing in Seattle or Portland. Then he came to L.A. and ran up 26 points the Lakers, this time in the Lakers' own house.
For all intents and purposes, Game 3 should have belonged to the Lakers. Traditionally, the Jazz have been as flat as a tortilla shell after playing two games at home to start the playoffs. Winning the third game of a playoff series is actually no harder than say, figuring the square root of 11 in your head. The unwritten rule of the NBA is this: If you win the first two at home, the odds on winning the next one are roughly the same as winning the Powerball Lottery - one in 80 million. They can make computers that work in nanoseconds, but few teams have figured out how to win a Game 3 on the road. In the Jazz's case, they are now 6-10 all time in Game 3s on the road. But two of those five wins came after losing one of two at home, which simply means they got their wakeup call early.
Still, they won on Friday, beating the odds.
For their part, the Lakers pulled out all the stops. They played "I Love L.A." on the sound system. They showed Jack Nicholson on the scoreboard screen. They invited recording star Jeffrey Osborne to sing the national anthem and, sure enough, he turned in a boffo performance.
Unfortunately, it didn't rub off on the Lakers. The Jazz were rocking and rolling by the late second quarter. They went from an early seven-point deficit to a 10-point lead. They ignored the Lakers' fourth-quarter run and went ahead to stay.
So now the series continues on Sunday and the Jazz have what amounts to an insurmountable lead. They can look forward to another chance to win the NBA title. The Lakers can look forward to cleaning up their unfinished chores and hoping they come back all grown up next year.