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Western semifinals


No. 1 Utah (62-20) vs.

No. 5 San Antonio (56-26)

Season series: Jazz won 3-1, its only loss coming on the road without then-injured point guard John Stockton.

Last round: Utah defeated No. 8 Houston in five games. San Antonio defeated No. 4 Phoenix in four games.

Key players: Utah -- Karl Malone (26.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg), Stockton (12.4 ppg, 8.2 apg), Jeff Hornacek (11.2 ppg, 4.0 apg), Byron Russell (12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg). San Antonio -- David Robinson (20.3 ppg, 16.0 rpg), Tim Duncan (20.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Avery Johnson (20.5 ppg, 6.0 apg), Jaren Jackson (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

Key matchups: Karl Malone against David Robinson. In their last meeting, Robinson was hospitalized with a concussion thanks to a Malone elbow -- a blow that irked some of the Spurs. Robinson has been labeled as being soft for much of his career, and he will have to be extremely physical. Avery Johnson vs. John Stockton. Johnson had 30 points in the decisive game against Phoenix, and has quickness -- a trait that usually bothers Stockton. Tim Duncan vs. Greg Ostertag. The Rookie of the Year will be matched against Ostertag and, at times, Malone. Ostertag had seven blocks against Houston on Sunday, and seems to be playing his best ball of the year.

What Utah has to do to win: Hope that it can dominate in the backcourt, where it has a big edge. Also, Malone has to stay out of foul trouble against a strong San Antonio frontcourt. Ostertag dTC and Greg Foster need to play big roles to help neutralize Robinson and Duncan.

What San Antonio has to do to win: Get big production from Duncan and Robinson, and some sort of contribution from the backcourt. The roles of Vinny Del Negro and Jaren Jackson will be crucial, although the Spurs are hurt by not having a legitimate backup point guard. San Antonio also will have to overcome fatigue, because there is little on the bench.

Prediction: Utah in five.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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