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For Barkley, Something Is Missing Against Jazz

Western Conference: Rocket tries to break through after averaging 9.3 points and shooting 29.3% against Utah this season.


SALT LAKE CITY — There are still the words--of course--but no noise.

Charles Barkley talks on, addressing the various ills of the world and the possibility of one day being elected governor of Alabama ("Then we got a problem"), but his game continues to offer a no comment against the Utah Jazz. That the silence has now stretched into these Western Conference finals is coming across loud and clear.

"We know about his unselfishness," Mario Elie, the Houston Rockets' other starting forward, said Tuesday. "We need him to be a little more selfish sometimes."

Either that or a lot more efficient.

Barkley averaged 19.2 points and shot 48.4% during the regular season, but only 9.3 and 29.3% in the four games against the Jazz. Then, come Monday night at the Delta Center and the Game 1 defeat, he had 12 points while making three of 10 attempts, which came as the third amigo, Clyde Drexler, also disappeared and forced Hakeem Olajuwon to try to go it alone.

That has been just as obvious a problem, the lack of shots, not merely the lack of made shots. Barkley, in order, has gone two of eight, three of 12, four of 10, three of 11, and then the three of 10. The Rockets are 2-3 in that time, but even the wins came while scoring 75 and 91 points.

"Why do I struggle?" Barkley said. "They do a good job doubling down and making me take tough shots.

"I know Karl [Malone] is going to go for the steal every time, so I have to take the ball outside. Then [Jeff] Hornacek or [John] Stockton comes over."

And then Barkley is forced to take a tough shot or pass out of the double team. That's the same attack he sees from most defenses, but the Jazz offers a different wrinkle:


For all the attention that goes to his offense, trying to score against Malone, the newly crowned NBA most valuable player and first-team all-defense, is no light household chore either.

Malone's defensive efforts have helped him grant the wish of millions--someone to silence Barkley, at least on the court. But the Jazz superstar has other problems heading into Game 2 tonight at the Delta Center, the deep floor burn, about the size of a silver dollar, on the heel of his right hand.

Malone suffered the injury with about 20 seconds left in the first half Monday when, running to the offensive end, he was inadvertently tripped by Barkley and put the hand down to break his fall. He broke the skin instead and left the game for treatment before returning for the start of the second half. He missed four of his last 11 shots.

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