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Jazz Insist They're Still Alive

Maybe the solution for the Utah Jazz is to have Karl Malone dye his restored hair and skip practice while Jerry Sloan grows a full beard and starts preaching Zen.

Hey, don't laugh. It works for the Chicago Bulls.

Free spirit Dennis Rodman, who operates in his private outrageous zone, has thrown a defensive shroud over Malone. Phil Jackson, who coaches the best team and player on the planet, brings a sort of detached, almost bemused look to the job.

And right now Chicago has the Jazz on the edge of elimination, faced with the daunting task of winning three straight games against the Bulls, who are looking to close out their second championship three-peat.

That difficult, perhaps impossible, assignment begins Friday night in Game 5 when the Jazz begin to try and find a way out of a 3-1 hole that no team has ever escaped in the NBA Finals. Can they do it?

"Absolutely," John Sloan said.

"I don't see why not," Malone added. "We're down 3-1 and our attitude is like it has been the whole series. You have to believe you can come back. You come out and try to respond as best you can.

"We're not conceding anything."

Stockton echoed his longtime teammate.

"I'm still kicking," he said. "We're still kicking."

Even after the Jazz lost three straight games for the first time this season, Sloan wasn't ready to give up on his team, which won 62 games during the season and captured its second straight Western Conference crown.

"Yeah, I think we can come back," he said. "I know what we have to do to win. If we don't recognize what they're doing, it's back to square one. I still think we can execute."

Time is running out for that to happen. The Jazz have no margin for error and yet, except for their 42-point embarrassment in Game 3, they have played the Bulls close. And they also won both regular-season meetings.

Jeff Hornaceck thought that would be a hopeful sign for a team groping for any positive it can find, a team Michael Jordan said the Bulls could have swept with a little more execution in Game 1.

"I don't see how they can say that," he said. "I don't buy that at all." "We were up 1 (point) late last night. In Game 2, we were up 1 with 50 seconds to go. We beat them this season. Maybe we'll go back and beat them again. When the game starts, we'll be ready to battle."

Still, the Bulls seem to have an answer for everything Utah tries, especially on defense where Rodman and Scottie Pippen have hounded the Jazz.

"You can't change too many things now," Hornaceck said. "We need to do a better job on turnovers and the offensive boards. Unfortunately for us, the Bulls are doing a good job rotating on the first pass and closinoff options."

Pippen has been the key to that, often jumping out at Stockton and disrupting the Jazz' patented pick-and-roll. Sloan thinks he has made a major difference in the Bulls from a year ago when the Jazz took Chicago to six games in the finals.

"Chicago is a much better team than a year ago," he said. "They're much better defensively."

All this has left Utah on the critical list, running out of ideas and options. Malone was asked what he can tell teammates faced with this desperate situation.

"I think the main thing you say is don't make summer plans already," he said.

And, oh yeah, one other thing.

Anybody got some hair dye?

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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