GREG FOSTER SAYS he is sure that the Utah Jazz would not be a victory away from the NBA Finals if the trade that was to send him and Chris Morris to Orlando for Rony Seikaly hadn't fallen apart.

"In my opinion, Rony Seikaly demands the basketball," Foster said. "Who are you going to demand the basketball from here? Karl Malone? Are you going to take shots away from Karl Malone?"That really burned me. How are they going to use this guy? Historically, the Jazz centers have basically been defensive centers."

Bob Baum

Associated Press

GET A GOOD look at them, because they're about to open the NBA Finals with home-court advantage.

The Utah Jazz, facing two playoff elimination games a month ago, has now reeled off nine victories in its last 10 playoff games against three of the league's premier teams.

Utah's closing out the teams with the league's biggest stars, and doing it efficiently, without much waste of effort. It's now - dare anyone say - the hottest team in the playoffs.

Sam Smith

Chicago Tribune

TIME, ONCE AGAIN, to make broom for Shaquille O'Neal.

Unless he and the Lakers can silence the sweet music of the Utah Jazz here Sunday, O'Neal will be swept for the fourth time in a playoff series.

"I told him two things when he left LSU," said his college coach, Dale Brown. "I told him not to let all the money and fame and celebrity get in the way of his personality and character.

"And I told him that if he didn't win the NBA title right away, he would be categorized like Wilt Chamberlain was."

Mark Whicker

Orange County Register

WHATEVER FEEL-GOOD element they possessed before they were down by 3-0 in the four-of-seven format has been edited down into a video montage of cool dunks and awesome 3-pointers from another series. Ten days after they demolished Seattle in the second round, you only hope now that the Shaq, Kobe and Eddie bandwagon comes equipped with airbags.

"We never expected to be in this predicament," said Kobe Bryant, sounding like the surprised 19-year-old he is.

Mike Wise

N.Y. Times News Service