All game long, Karl Malone, the Jazz's fun-loving forward, was doing his thing - smiling, laughing, jumping over a bench, joking with courtside fans.
And scoring. Scoring a lot.Friday night in the Charlotte Coliseum, Malone went after the Hornets like crazy, scoring 52 points in a 114-100 Jazz victory. "I go out and have a good time when I play," said Malone.
This was probably even more fun than usual.
Malone's box-score line, suitable for framing: 43 minutes, 22 of 28 from the field, 8 of 12 from the line, 17 rebounds, a career-high 52 points.
In fact, not since Adrian Dantley's 57 against Chicago in December 1982 had a Jazzman scored that much. Malone's rampage came in the wake of extra practice against double-teaming defenses and a teammate's advisory that Charlotte's Armon Gilliam had called Malone "overrated."
By Bobby Hansen's report, award a nice assist by John Stockton, the master passer and motivator. So what if Gilliam apparently never said any such thing? The Mailman was sufficiently inspired by Stockton.
"Yeah, I told him that," Stockton said mischievously, revealing nothing else about his little scheme.
What bothered Charlotte Coach Dick Harter the most was not Malone's scoring the most points ever against his team, but the way the points came. "Easily," he said.
"It's not easy," countered Malone, but he was certainly finding less resistance than usual after taking entry passes and going to work in the lane.
"Karl Malone makes a lot of things look easy," noted ex-Jazzman Dell Curry. "You can't stop him."
Especially not this time.
"It's amazing, the energy (Malone) plays the game with," said Coach Jerry Sloan. "He was high energy all night long."
Curiously, the Hornets managed to stay in the game while never stopping Malone. Only when he drove around Stuart Gray for a 3-point play - Nos. 48, 49 and 50 - did the Jazz start to pull away, leading by nine with 4:00 left.
Stockton added 16 points and North Carolina native Blue Edwards 13 for the Jazz, just enough to open things up for Malone. Guard Rex Chapman scored 28 for the Hornets.
Right from the start, Malone was off and running. He'd scored 38 in his only other visit to the Coliseum last season and was clearly in his element.
Others joined in the fast start, with the Jazz making 15 of their first 20 shots. Fighting his way through traffic all season, Malone is learning to recognize the double-teams early, step away and face the basket and look for teammates and other openings. By not forcing things against the Hornets, he quickly chased them out of that strategy.
"Even when Michael Jordan gets 50, he'll tell you he couldn't do it without them having to guard the other guys," noted Stockton.
And when others started hitting, "They start worrying about that, and he went one-on-one inside," noted Phil Johnson, the Jazz assistant coach. "He was awesome inside. That was vintage Malone."
When center Mike Brown drove for a tough running hook, the Jazz were up 38-20 early in the second quarter. But any visions of a breeze and a chance to rest people for tonight's Midwest Division showdown at San Antonio quickly vanished when Chapman and Muggsy Bogues later produced an eight-point Charlotte run. The Jazz ended up settling for a 57-54 halftime lead.
"There's always been a little letdown," noted the Jazz's Hansen, summarizing this 2-2 trip. "It's disappointing when you look up and you're only up three and you should be up 20."
The Jazz - and Malone - answered in the third quarter. Edwards' jumper and Malone's drive and another 3-point play answered one Charlotte threat and Malone later built the lead to 12 with a basket in the lane and a rebound follow.
Malone had 36 through three quarters and the Jazz were up 83-75. They staved off a brief Hornet rally while Malone was on the bench for a short rest, then rode the Mailman for six straight baskets that iced the game.
"I just told him to take us home," said Stockton.
No doubt, the Mailman is handling the pre-Christmas rush nicely. He scored 39 in a tough loss in Boston Wednesday night and came back for more against the Hornets. With 6:39 left in the game, he'd already broken his previous career high of 44, reached last December at Philadelphia.
Even without Stockton's alleged news report - doesn't Malone know that Stock refuses to read newspaper sports sections? - Malone has always carried a certain enthusiasm into matchups with Gilliam, who entered the NBA with Phoenix as the No. 2 choice in the 1987 draft behind David Robinson.
Only last week, ironically, Gilliam was in a Salt Lake City hotel preparing for a game against the Jazz when he learned he was traded to the Hornets for Kurt Rambis. So Gilliam took his turn against the Mailman Friday, followed by rookie J.R. Reid and Gray. Only Reid was effective, for a stretch in the second quarter.
"Other than that, there was no defense on him at all," said Harter. "I thought that was about as poor as you could possibly play him."
And now we know what Sloan was talking about in Boston, when questioned about the Jazz's defense of Larry Bird. "People ask the same thing when they run into Karl Malone," he said.
JAZZ NOTES: Besides Edwards, the Jazz's North Carolina college players had mixed results. Wake Forest's Delaney Rudd had seven points and five assists in 12 minutes, but Thurl Bailey managed only seven points for his fourth single-digit game of the season. That happened only three times all last season . . . Curry had 17 points, but ex-Jazzman Kelly Tripucka continues to struggle. Tripucka worked only 20 minutes and scored nine.
Top Jazz scorers
Player Year Opponent Points
Pete Maravich `77 New York 68
Adrian Dantley `82 Chicago 57
Adrian Dantley `81 Denver 55
Adrian Dantley `82 Denver 53
Karl Malone `89 Charlotte 52