By DREW PACKHAM
It was supposed to be a coming home party for Shandon Anderson. But the Utah Jazz — and their fans — had different plans.
Instead of welcoming Anderson with open arms, the Jazz ignored the boos raining down on the departed Anderson and proceeded to manhandle the visiting Houston Rockets, 98-82. The Jazz held Anderson to four points while getting big nights from its three veterans. Karl Malone scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds and John Stockton went for 18 points on eight-for-eight shooting.
After the game, Stockton praised Malone for his ability to free up Jeff Hornacek and himself for the outside shot.
“The way they guard us they’re going to stop Karl and they’re going to make every effort to stop Karl and the rest of us have to contribute on the outside,” Stockton said. “Fortunately a few shots fell for us tonight.”
Stockton, who was matched up primarily against rookie phenom Steve Francis, put on a clinic Thursday night, dishing out seven assists and leading a balanced attack. In 30 minutes of action, Francis scored eight points and had five assists. Francis was quick to praise the Jazz for their solid game plan.
“They executed when they had to,” Francis said. “They got the ball to the guys who were hot. We weren’t mentally into the game.”
While Stockton may have had the upper hand in the first meeting of old-meets-young, Francis understood he has a long way to go in the NBA.
“I think I’m talented enough to match up with anybody,” Francis said. “It’s gonna take time for me to adjust, but I’m learning. It’s all a part of learning and maturing and learning the NBA game.”
In the first period, the Jazz jumped out to an early lead on the backs of their 103-year-old monster of Malone, Stockton and Hornacek. Malone dropped 12 first-quarter points and Hornacek and Stockton both finished the period with four points.
In the first half, the Rockets got quality minutes out of their second year man, Cuttino Mobley, who finished the night with 17 points on three-of-six shooting from beyond the arc. The Rhode Island graduate nailed back-to-back three pointers to bring the Rockets back within striking distance. At the half, the Jazz held on to a 38-31 lead.
The second half featured more of the same, with the Rockets shooting long-range bombs and the Jazz sticking with the fundamentals. After building a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Jazz sat their three stars and relied instead on the backups. They didn’t let coach Jerry Sloan down. Instead, they took the fifteen-point lead and increased it to twenty, putting away the visiting Rockets.
Greg Ostertag, who has struggled to find his place on the Jazz his entire career, came in and scored eight points and blocked three shots.
“Ostertag has been playing big for us right now,” Sloan said. “We need play out of the middle. Greg came in and did a nice job.”
Also putting in big minutes for the Jazz was Howard Eisley, who finished with 11 points and six assists. Hornacek was also big, scoring 17 points in 29 minutes of play.
“We executed pretty well,” Sloan said. “If you get the ball to the right guy, you’re going to get good shots that way. We had some pretty good looks.”
For the Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon put in 12 points and Bryce Drew scored 10. Charles Barkley was fairly quiet, scoring eight points and five rebounds. As for Anderson, he said it was a little strange playing against, and losing to, his former teammates.
“It was crazy knowing what they were going to do, and then sometimes you couldn’t stop it because they executed so well,” Anderson said.
The Jazz travels to Seattle to take on the Supersonics on Saturday.