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1999 NBA Playoffs

Gotta get it going

Jazz on last legs as Blazers try to wrap up series

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Posted: Monday May 24, 1999 08:24 PM

  All that Jazz: Karl Malone and the Jazz are feeling down, but Malone insists his team will prove people wrong. AP

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz are watching their championship dreams wither before their eyes, and they don't know what to do about it.

The last time the Utah Jazz lost three games in a row, they were in the 1998 NBA Finals. But in dropping three straight to the Trail Blazers over a four-day span, the Jazz didn't look much like a team that can return there.

And now Utah is down to its last chance to shake this postseason funk.

Portland visits the Delta Center on Tuesday night for Game 5 in the best-of-7 second-round series. Up 3-1, the Blazers have three chances to eliminate the Jazz and advance to face San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.

Most observers thought this shortened season would be the last best chance for Karl Malone, John Stockton and company to win the title that has eluded them for over a decade. Now, it will take a miraculous three-game winning streak for the Jazz to climb out of the hole they have dug -- and even then, the Spurs await.

"We're up against it now," Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said. "We put ourselves in this situation, and now we have to see if we can get out of it. How? Well, we need everything, sort of."

After three games in four days, the Jazz didn't practice Monday. Coach Jerry Sloan hoped a day off might give one more injection of rest for his aging, ailing team.

The Blazers worked out in Portland before flying to Salt Lake, where Utah is 3-4 in its last seven home playoff games. If necessary, Game 6 will be Thursday at the Rose Garden.

Ever since their blowout of Sacramento in the first game of the first round, the Jazz have mostly played miserably during the playoffs, and there's no single reason why. Utah is 3-5 in its last eight games, and two of those wins came only when the Kings missed shots that could have won it.

The Jazz's scoring is down, their defense has trouble keeping up with young legs, and their big men have done nothing. Even Stockton has missed two critical layups in the final minute of close games against the Blazers.

Utah is shooting 43 percent as a team, and its scoring average is down to 90.3 points per game, a number that's significantly raised by the 117 points the Jazz scored in Game 1 against Sacramento. As one of the league's highest-scoring teams over the last decade with a normally reliable offense, those numbers are disheartening.

"It would really help if we were hitting our shots and scoring more points," Hornacek said. "We've been struggling on offense, and it hasn't got any better. We're just not making open shots, and everybody shares in that."

Uncharacteristic mental mistakes, like Bryon Russell's throwaway in the closing seconds of Game 4, have dogged Utah. Malone, who might win his second Most Valuable Player award this season, also has played poorly, shooting 42.6 percent and disappearing down the stretch in Games 2 and 4.

"People have counted us out before, and we've proved them wrong," Malone said. "We're going to get it going, no matter what it takes."

But it may take more than the Jazz have to offer. The Blazers are riding high after playing poorly themselves in Game 4 before stopping the Jazz on three critical possessions in the final two minutes.

"It feels good to be up 3-1, but we're not satisfied with that," guard Damon Stoudamire said. "We know that we've got to close the deal now. We've got to be finishers and get our game tight."

After three straight wins, the already confident Blazers are sounding downright cocky.

"If you look back at the whole series, they should have been swept," Isaiah Rider said Sunday. "We gave that first game away."

There is consolation in the fact the Jazz often play well when cornered. They are 5-1 in their last six games in which they faced elimination, including their rally for a 3-2 series win over Sacramento in the first round.

But as poorly as Utah has played against Portland, is there any reason to believe the Jazz can pull off one more playoff escape?

"I never say never. That word isn't even in my vocabulary," Malone said.

 
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