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Malone, Robinson Go Elbow to Elbow

May 5, 1998

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs agree that their Western Conference playoff series will be won under the boards.

``It’s going to be decided inside,″ Utah center Greg Foster said Monday. ``It might be an ugly series, because they won’t back down inside and we won’t, either.″

Tensions are running high between the two teams since their March 8 game, when Karl Malone knocked out David Robinson by slamming an elbow in his face.

After Robinson was helped off the Delta Center floor, he spent the night in the hospital and missed San Antonio’s next three games with a concussion. He also strained his knee falling to the court.

Malone, who apologized to Robinson and said the elbow was unintentional, was suspended for one game, snapping his NBA-best streak of 543 consecutive starts.

At the time, the Spurs threatened revenge on the Mailman.

``If it gets to the playoffs and we’re up against them, it’s going to be a whole different game,″ rookie of the year Tim Duncan said after the game.

But Robinson says the playoffs are about team play, not tag-team play.

``If certain things come up in this series where it gets kind of physical, we’ll have to answer to that. But stuff in the past, we have to let that go,″ the Spurs’ star center said.

``We can’t go in there with some kind of attitude where we have a chip on our shoulders. We have to go in there with our minds clear because they’re going to be ready.″

After practice Monday, Malone refused to talk about the fallout from elbowing Robinson, but he did say both teams will be prepared.

``It’s important for us to do our thing and not worry about the other issues,″ Malone said. ``They stand up for themselves, and we stand up for ourselves.″

But the Spurs stand taller _ and that could cause problems for the Jazz. San Antonio’s monster frontcourt of 7-footers Robinson, Duncan and Will Perdue will be a challenge for top-seeded Utah, but the recent re-emergence of Greg Ostertag bodes well for the Jazz.

``We’re expecting everybody to step up, not just Greg,″ Malone said. ``They’ve got a big lineup they can throw out there, and we expect to do the same.″

Ostertag had seven blocked shots and five second-half rebounds in Utah’s 84-70 victory over the Houston Rockets in the deciding Game 5 of their opening-round series on Sunday.

The victory allowed Utah to avoid the embarrassment of being just the second No. 1 seed to lose in the first round. Top-seeded Seattle lost to Denver in 1994.

Ostertag controlled Hakeem Olajuwon in the final two games of the Houston series, but the Spurs pose different problems.

``With San Antonio, we’re talking about bigger guys that are younger,″ Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. ``That’s a bad combination.″

``They didn’t walk all over Phoenix just by chance,″ Ostertag said. ``We have a big team, too, and their size will still be an advantage, but it won’t be the advantage it was against Phoenix.″

The Spurs advanced to the second round with a 3-1 series win against the Suns. That series ended April 29, so it has been nearly a week since San Antonio played. Coach Gregg Popovich isn’t sure whether the downtime will help or hurt his team.

``You never know until you get out there,″ Popovich said. ``We just did the best we could at managing the time and staying in shape.″

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