Jeff Hornacek has earned a reputation as one of the best jump shooters in the NBA, but he's been off all series against the Lakers. His 2-for-7 showing in Game 3 on Friday left him at 4-for-17 for the series (23.5 percent).
Hornacek's shooting woes and struggles against the Lakers have made people wonder about his health, or lack thereof. When asked about it after practice on Saturday, Hornacek had the usual Jazz response."I'm O.K.," he said.
But then he was pressed even more about whether or not he was injured.
"People wonder if it's my knees. The one thing I can say is that my knees are fine," he said.
He still didn't want to say what the real problem was. Finally, he fessed up. His Achilles on his left foot has been bothering him since the second game of the San Antonio series.
"I really haven't wanted to bring (the injury) up, but it's been hard to push off my legs on my shots," said Hornacek. "Actually, the last game was the first game where it's felt better where I could push off and it felt better running up and down the court . . . Last game I was still missing my shots, but I felt better and I'm just hoping I'll start feeling better and better.
BRING ON THE BULLS: Karl Malone says he's been trying not to pay attention to the Eastern Conference finals, although he knows where it stands. While the Jazz are not saying it directly, they really would like another shot at the Chicago Bulls in the Finals.
When asked if he wants to play the Bulls, Malone smiled. "It would be nice," he said.
Hornacek agrees. "You don't want to sneak in. You want to have to beat the best to win the title, and that's been the Bulls. If you beat the Bulls to win the championship, nobody can put an asterisk next to it."
ON HIS WAY OUT? Before Game 3, Lakers coach Del Harris discussed his job status.
"They wanted to fire me in the media when we lost two games a couple of months ago. And now we've lost two and they are ready to fire me again," Harris said. "If everybody in the NBA got fired every time they lost two games, we'd have a pretty good rotation around here."
Del, what about three games? Or four, for that matter.
To Harris' credit, Utah's victories in the Western Conference finals represent the first time in three months that L.A. has lost three consecutive games. The previous skid was Feb. 13-18 when the Lakers lost to Seattle, Houston and Phoenix.
ON THE SPOT: A reporter cornered University of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus, who is providing analysis of the series for KUTV, Ch. 2, and asked if he wanted the Jazz or Lakers to advance into the NBA finals.
"This is a hard one for me," Majerus said. "I'm going to tell you the truth. I root for individuals. I love Del (Harris), I like the Laydens, I live in Utah, and the Jazz represent the best of what basketball is about. And I like Shaq. He's a great guy.
"I come out no winner in this series as a fan," Majerus said. "Whoever loses I'm going to feel bad for, and whoever wins I'm going to feel good for. I'm taking the press route on this one."
PRAISE TO THE BENCH: He may be a star, and he may be on a mission, but Karl Malone knows what got the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals - and it wasn't just he and John Stockton.
Malone took a moment on Saturday to praise the team's bench. "We're not going to win consistently without the bench," said Malone. "Down the stretch, it's been kind of amazing. We don't need a whole lot all the time, but we just need some at a particular time of the ball game, and they gave that to us."
Added center Greg Foster, "I think the depth has been the key. We've had a great contribution from guys, but the past three years, the guys have done it in the playoffs."
Why is the Jazz bench playing so well? Experience, according to assistant coach Gordon Chiesa.
"We are playing well and the reason is guys got good minutes during the regular season," said Chiesa. "Now, when it really, really matters, a lot of their abilities and confidence are showing."
SLOAN'S NOT IMPRESSED: The Jazz claimed a huge road victory over the Lakers Friday night, but Jerry Sloan, as we've come to expect, wasn't impressed.
"They got a guy (Shaq) who gets shots wherever he wants them," he said. "He got 39 points. So did we do a good job on him? No."
As for the Jazz's great fourth-quarter performance, when they held a Laker rally at bay in the Forum, Sloan said, "We got lucky. We just exchanged baskets with them. We didn't stop them. They walked right in through the front door and got shots under the basket. We didn't foul them. We didn't put up a fight."