Malone exploited the Pacers' vulnerable middle, scoring 34 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, getting six assists and five steals as he led the Jazz to a 98-82 victory at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"He's still the focal point of our team," coach Jerry Sloan said. "Everything we do, everything we go through, goes through him."
In fact, the Jazz played a lot like the team that once was an NBA title contender.
John Stockton dished out 12 assists, and Utah got contributions
from everyone who played.
The Pacers proved no match for the bigger, stronger, more
experienced Jazz, who outrebounded Indiana 50-34 and 17-7 on the
"We're just a very soft team right now," said Indiana coach
Isiah Thomas, who has watched his team get beat up most of this
season by the NBA's strongest players.
"We have a lot of pretty guys, but we don't have enough grunt guys right now. We've got to find a guy like that."
While the Pacers couldn't find anyone to fill the void Tuesday night, the Jazz had no such problem.
They repeatedly went to Malone, who connected on 11 of 23 field
goals and 12 of 16 free throws and made it look easy against Jeff
Foster and Jermaine O'Neal.
Malone, who skipped the All-Star weekend so he could spend time
with his ill mother but never considered missing any regular-season
games, played like he always does -- strong and efficient.
"He's such a big guy, he's so strong, it's hard to play against him," Foster said. "You just have to persevere and continue to play."
When Malone wasn't the problem, the Pacers were.
After a seven-day layoff, Indiana looked ragged, shooting just
23.5 percent from the field in the first quarter when they fell
behind 22-13. They were led by Travis Best, who came off the bench
to score 18 points.
Indiana also committed 22 turnovers, and Utah had 16 steals -- including six by Stockton. Indiana matched its second-lowest home scoring total of the season. The Pacers scored 79 points against San Antonio on Nov. 23, 2001.
But the biggest problem was matching up inside.
"I felt we were very soft and I'm not a soft guy," Thomas
said. "We need some dogs."
Indiana made only two serious challenges Tuesday night.
They closed to 34-30 early in the second quarter, but the Jazz
went on a 14-3 run to open a 48-36 halftime lead. Utah then opened
the second half on an 8-3 spurt to make it 56-39 with 9:53 left in
the third quarter.
The Pacers challenged once after that, using a 13-1 run to pull
to 63-57 late in the third quarter. But Utah regained control by
closing the quarter on a 9-3 run and never gave Indiana another
opportunity to rally.
Indiana was without backup forward Carlos Rogers, who was placed on the suspended list after not returning to the team following the All-Star break. Coach Isiah Thomas said Rogers was attending to "personal family matters" but called the absence unexcused.
Still, that wasn't as big a problem as Malone and his teammates.
"I think our guys really got after their guys right off the
bat," Malone said. "I felt we established ourselves defensively
and set the tone."
Guard DeShawn Stevenson did not play Tuesday night, one day
after being sentenced to two years probation for having sex with a
minor. ... The victory was the first for the Jazz since starting a
nine-game road trip last week. Utah lost its first two games and
plays six more on the road before returning home following the
Olympics. ... Indiana is 5-6 against Western Conference teams at
Conseco Fieldhouse this season and is 18-17 since opening with a
14-0 mark at home against the West three years ago. ... Utah C Greg
Ostertag served a one-game suspension imposed by coach Jerry Sloan
after the two were involved in a bumping incident last Wednesday
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