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As the part-time farmer of a 900-acre spread in downstate
Illinois, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan knows well the rhythm of the
growing season. Till, plant, cultivate, harvest. Hope for the
right weather at the right time. It is a timeless and
predictable cycle, much like his other job.

As Sloan begins his eighth season in Utah--the longest current
tenure of any NBA head coach--there are certain verities he can
count on; indeed, if pro basketball had a Farmer's Almanac, he
could look them up. For instance, Sloan knows that barring
unthinkable injury, John Stockton and Karl Malone will start
every game (with 445 and 303 consecutive starts, respectively,
Stockton and Malone are 1-2 among active players) and that they
will play at an All-Star level. Nine-year veteran guard Jeff
Hornacek will shoot around 50% from the field. David Benoit
will, like a neon sign on the fritz, continue to show brief
flashes of brilliance at small forward (where he will split time
with ex-Net Chris Morris), but he won't offer consistent
productivity; the hard-nosed Antoine Carr and Adam Keefe will be
solid but unspectacular.

And Sloan has probably figured out that even if the Jazz match
last year's franchise-record 60 regular-season victories,
something unfortunate, like a fusillade of fired-up Rockets,
will befall it in the postseason.

Though Houston downed the Jazz in the first round last year,
Utah is just as likely to be snuffed out this year by San
Antonio, Denver or any other team with a quality post man. Utah
center Felton Spencer, a decent offensive player who was having
the best season of his pro career when he went down last January
with a ruptured Achilles tendon, reinjured his left foot in
March and will be out until January. That leaves the Jazz
depending on the services of 7'2" rookie Greg Ostertag, the
sometimes sluggish No. 28 draft pick whose 258 blocks at Kansas
set a Big Eight record. Though his offensive skills and work
ethic are unproven, Ostertag will find himself banging up
against the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Dikembe
Mutombo before December. "This isn't going to be a redshirt year
for him," says Sloan. "He's got to be able to help us right away."

Unless Ostertag unexpectedly plays like a lottery pick--something
that Utah, by the way, has never had--Malone, 32, and Stockton,
33, will again fall short in their NBA title quest. Mired in
medical rehab, Spencer feels a sense of urgency for the Jazz as
its two star players get ever longer of tooth. "With Karl and
John, we're playing on one of the better teams in the league,
and it's a great opportunity," he says. "You don't want to let
it slip away again and have to say, We had a good team, but we
didn't get it this year and we'll get it next year."

The only thing Stockton can look forward to getting this year
with near certainty is the alltime steals record. Actually, to
say Stockton is looking forward to the event--the surpassing of
Maurice Cheeks's 2,310 career thefts, of which Stockton is just
85 shy--would be inaccurate, as Stockton relishes the promise of
limelight about as much as he might the prospect of amputation.

Stockton--who is so unglamorous that he has his uniform shorts
specially tailored to a shorter, mid-'80s cut, and who is so
attention-averse that he has been known to lurk behind potted
plants in airports to avoid adoring fans--was tortured by the
media's focus on his approach to Magic Johnson's alltime assists
record last winter. He pleaded, to no avail, with team officials
to get rid of a banner hanging in the Delta Center that kept
track of his assists. After he made the historic 9,922nd dish,
to Malone at home on Feb. 1, the game was stopped for a brief
ceremony, and after the game Stockton was made to suffer through
a congratulatory letter from President Clinton and videotaped
messages from Senator Orrin Hatch and Magic Johnson. Asked later
if he found the whole thing embarrassing, Stockton said, "At
times, the ... uh ... yes."

The steals record probably won't be as big a media deal simply
because that historic date will be harder to pinpoint in
advance, making it one of the few difficult things to predict
about Utah's season. At the moment, the Jazz is undecided about
how to commemorate the event. "But," warns Utah media relations
manager Mark Kelly, "there will be some sort of celebration,
whether John likes it or not."

You can count on it.


COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Utah has its Mailman in the powerful Malone, but what it needs is a post man. [Karl Malone dunking basketball against Dallas Mavericks]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 106.4 (5) .512 (1)
DEFENSE 98.4 (7) .453 (3)


Despite Karl Malone's stellar 10-year pro career, the one thing
the Mailman has been unable to deliver to Utah Jazz fans is an
NBA title. In fact, Malone has the highest career scoring
average among active players--and the second highest of all
time--without a championship (minimum 400 games or 10,000 points).

Highest Career Scoring Average Without an NBA Title

Years PPG

George Gervin; Spurs, Bulls 1977-85 26.2*
Karl Malone; Jazz 1985-95 26.0
Dominique Wilkins; Hawks, 1982-95 25.8
Adrian Dantley; Braves, 1976-90 24.3
Pacers, Lakers, Jazz,
Pistons, Mavs, Bucks
Pete Maravich; Hawks, Jazz, 1970-79 24.2
Patrick Ewing; Knicks 1985-95 23.8
Charles Barkley; 76ers, 1984-95 23.3

*NBA only


Utah's signing of 6'8", 220-pound forward Chris Morris may be a
mutual rescue from dire straits. In his seven years with the
Nets--a cesspool of bad management and funk-prone stars--Morris
averaged 13.3 points a game and several acts of rebellion a
year. His most famous was a refusal to tie his shoelaces at a
practice last December, a deed of defiance that earned him a
one-game benching. Though he was occasionally unstrung in
Jersey, Morris has the kind of top-shelf talent that the Jazz
hadn't had at small forward in years. By moving to straitlaced
Utah, where the franchise is successful, the coaching situation
is stable, the stars are happy and acts of rebellion are as
uncommon as mixed drinks, Morris may finally be able to settle
down and realize his potential. And the Jazz may finally have
the player who can complement the strengths of John Stockton and
Karl Malone and take the team to a higher level in the playoffs.


STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics

SF David Benoit 10.4 ppg 5.2 rpg 84.1 FT%
PF Karl Malone 26.7 ppg 10.6 rpg 53.6 FG%
C Felton Spencer* 9.3 ppg 7.6 rpg 0.94 bpg
PG John Stockton 14.7 ppg 12.3 apg 2.37 spg
SG Jeff Hornacek 16.5 ppg 4.3 apg 88.2 FT%


F Chris Morris 13.4 ppg 5.7 rpg 33.4 3FG%
C Greg Ostertag Rookie; 28th overall pick, from Kansas
F Antoine Carr 9.6 ppg 3.4 rpg 53.1 FG%

*Will begin season on injured list