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Lack of home games is road to Jazz success

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One glance at the December schedule of the Utah Jazz and you're left asking what owner Larry Miller could have done to tick off the NBA schedule-makers.

After a Nov. 12 game against Phoenix at home, the Jazz played its next six games leading up to Christmas on the road. No time for shopping, no going over Christmas lists, no holiday parties -- just what the Jazz wanted.

The Jazz wound up sweeping its six games on the road, ending the stretch with a 103-101 win at Atlanta on Thursday. Utah has won seven straight games and has a two-game lead over the nTC Houston Rockets in the Midwest Division. Five of the six wins on the just-concluded road swing were against Eastern Conference teams, giving the Jazz a 10-1 record on the pre-Christmas trip during the past two seasons. Utah's record over the past five years on similar trips: 18-8.

"It can be an advantage to us and a disadvantage for other teams," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "All the stuff going on at Christmas, it can be tough to concentrate on basketball if you're at home."

Added Karl Malone: "It's tough to walk up and down in a mall all day and then get up and down the court that night."

It appears somebody in Philadelphia took advantage of the team's holiday trip to get an extra holiday tip. Upon returning to the team hotel after a win over the Sixers, Malone found $300 missing, Bryon Russell was missing $400 and David Benoit $250 in cash, a $1,500 diamond earring and his wedding ring. Speaking of Philadelphia, dissension is building on the Sixers. They're losing close games and their patience.

Before beating the Boston Celtics on Friday, the Sixers had lost seven of their previous eight games and gone through a week when their star player was benched, owner Harold Katz publicly criticized the team and a team meeting was held to get everyone on the same page.

Clarence Weatherspoon, one of the top young players in the game, was benched for the final seven minutes against the Detroit Pistons for griping about a lack of shots. After that game, Katz held a 20-minute meeting, coming after a similar session earlier in the day.

"What [Shawn Bradley] is doing doesn't [warrant] the money that I'm paying for him," Katz said of his second-year center, who has an eight-year, $44.2 million contract. "He wanted the money, and now he has to perform.

"[Scott Williams] is not performing either," Katz said of the former Chicago Bulls reserve. "He's not doing the job he was brought here to do."

Why is Katz surprised? Bradley was an expensive project from the outset, and is maybe 80 pounds away from making an impact. And Williams wasn't a star in Chicago, never averaging better than 7.6 points or 5.6 rebounds in four seasons. The few times he did look good, it was because teams paid so much attention to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.

Still, Katz says the Sixers are on the verge. The question is: the verge of what?

"I believe we're ready to win," Katz said. "So if [coach John Lucas] wants to add a veteran, I would not be opposed."

Last I heard, Jordan was not available.

Around the league

If you didn't catch "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Tuesday, you missed Detroit Pistons rookie Grant Hill doing an impressive rendition of "Tender Love" on the piano with Paul Shaffer's orchestra. "I had the same kind of nervousness you have before a big game," said Hill, who took piano lessons for four years. . . . Doc Rivers, cut by the New York Knicks last week, entertained offers from Atlanta and the 76ers. But he wanted to play with a contender, and signed with the San Antonio Spurs. "Pure and simple, he feels the West is wide-open," said Steve Kauffman, Rivers' agent. "With someone like David Robinson, in a seven-game series you can beat anybody." . . .

When the Los Angeles Clippers drew 12,498 in a game against the Orlando Magic last week, it marked just the third time in Shaquille O'Neal's career that he didn't play before a sellout crowd. Two of those three have been at the Clippers' Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Quote of the Week

From 76ers coach Lucas, who tried to send Bradley back into a game in overtime after he had fouled out in the fourth quarter: "I thought in overtime you got another foul."

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