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Stockton Shrugs Off All Possible Excuses

Mon., May 20, 1996, midnight

Suddenly, everyone wants to take John Stockton’s temperature.

The lopsidedness - both collectively and individually - of Seattle’s victory in Game 1 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals demanded some explanation, and a popular theory for the decisive edge Gary Payton gave the Sonics at point guard was Stockton’s assortment of physical ailments.

Problem is, he won’t admit to having any.

He’s reported to be nursing both a strained hamstring and a bruised elbow injured earlier in the playoffs, and was the last of the Jazz - by about 20 minutes - to emerge from trainer’s room after Seattle’s 102-72 victory Saturday.

So would he diagnose himself at 80 percent for Game 2 tonight? Ninety?

“A hundred percent,” insisted Stockton. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine.”

Well, his pride may be slightly bruised. He made just two of 10 shots in Saturday’s loss and had a playoff-low seven assists, while Payton had 21 points and seven assists as Seattle handed Utah its worst ever playoff defeat.

“You can look for excuses all day long,” Stockton said, “but you have to give them credit. They played great and we just didn’t play well.”

Karl Malone was no more forthcoming about Stockton’s status.

“You’d have to ask Stock,” said Malone. “We have a policy on this team: if you suit up, no excuses.”

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan did acknowledge Seattle’s plan “to go at John early and see if they could wear him down a little bit. He’s not 19 anymore. But that’s just basketball.”

And it’s really no different from the way the Sonics have attacked Utah since George Karl took over as head coach midway through the 1992 season.

In four games against the Sonics during the regular season, Stockton averaged 15.2 points on 60 percent shooting, with 10 assists per game. Payton’s numbers, meanwhile, were 16.0 points and 7.8 assists.

“Stockton is going to have a great game - he’ll probably have three or four in the series,” said Karl. “Gary won the match-up (Saturday) and Shawn (Kemp) won his. But we’re all even at 0-0 come (Monday) and their pride and heart are definitely going to be out there.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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