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NBA PLAYOFFS | NOTES

Malone Feels Solid About 10% Solution

May 10, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Karl Malone, the MVP-to-be with the wide shoulders and woeful shooting percentage, amiably took stock of his place in this playoff series Friday, after hearing about it from guard John Stockton.

"Stock walked up to me [after the game] and he said, 'You know what Karl? You really [stunk] tonight.' And I said, 'You know, Stock, you did too.'

"We could kind of laugh about it, because what do you do? We all have games like that.

"Yeah, it was a big game. It was a huge game. I don't think I'm playing as relaxed as I was probably during the second half of the season."

During the season, Malone averaged 27.4 points and made 55% of his shots, surging in the final months to lead his team to a 64-victory total and possibly overtaking Chicago's Michael Jordan in the race for the league's most-valuable-player award.

But in Game 3, against a Laker defense organized to keep him shooting jump shots, instead of pounding away inside, Malone made only two of 20 shots--his worst shooting performance in nine years--as his game vanished.

Stockton also was no offensive force in Game 3, but, heading into today's Game 4 at the Forum, Malone says he understands that the Jazz's scoring load rests mainly in his hands.

"If I had to adjust anything, I'd say I won't go out being in a hurry to try to erase this game," Malone said. "I'll just go out and try to let it flow, be more aggressive going to the basket, and then look for the outside shots.

"I know I'll get them. The Lakers will probably say, 'Let's make him beat us from out there. Let's see how he's going to start out.' If their game plan is to sit back and let me shoot them, I'm going to take them."

Malone, who earlier in the series conceded that he wasn't at the top of his game, said he started missing early in Game 3, then felt the pressure build.

"When you're struggling with your shot like I was, you're always the one who gets a wide-open shot next time," Malone said. "You get wide-open shots, and then you start second-guessing, should I shoot it or should I drive to the basket? And you can't play this game like that.

"It's not like plays aren't run to me. I'm not going to be bashful now after an 82-game season. I'm not going to stop now just because I had a terrible game.

"I had the shots that I made all year long, and I didn't make them yesterday. I just happened to have 20 of them."

Malone said he was put at ease after the game Thursday when he called his wife, Kay.

"I called my wife and I said, 'I shot two for 20,' " Malone said. "And she said, 'What is two for 20?'

"It's kind of neat that she doesn't follow basketball."

*

Yes, the Jazz noticed. Against a Utah offense designed to free the big men by screening opponents' guards, the Lakers on Thursday fought ferociously through the guard screens, tossing Stockton and Jeff Hornacek to the floor several times.

"They took quite a few cheap shots at our players," Utah forward Bryon Russell said. "If you're going to cheap-shot us, we're going to have to cheap-shot them.

"They were trying to take Stockton's and Hornacek's head off."

Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, who drove through a few screens in his playing days, said the Lakers aren't doing anything wrong, or doing anything that can't be handled with some increased intensity by his own players.

"You've got to stand up to it, and we didn't," Sloan said. "Every time we went to shoot a layup, they made sure we were on the floor. Which is fine. I don't have any problem with it. . . .

"What are you going to do, turn around and hit somebody? We better not. We're going to do what we need to do."

*

There was some confusion Thursday night when some of the Forum crowd showed up with the wrong tickets. The proper tickets for today's game are the ones marked "Series B, Game 2."

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