SALT LAKE CITY - It's a little more than two hours before the tipoff of Game 2 of the Utah Jazz-Seattle SuperSonics NBA Western Conference semifinal series. The Delta Center stands are vacant. The Sonic bus hasn't left the team's hotel.
But Utah guard Jeff Malone is alone in the Jazz locker room.
Already wearing his white home uniform and covered with a light coating of sweat, Malone is laying on his back in the middle of the floor performing stretching exercises with a hot pad wedged under his back.
But if Jeff Malone is having back problems, he seems to putting a hurtin' on the Sonics as well.
From his ungainly, pregame position, Malone arose to score a game-high 33 points and lead the Jazz to a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series with the Sonics.
Malone will be a player to watch when the series resumes today at the Coliseum. Game 4 also will be played at the Coliseum. If needed, Game 5 will be played Thursday in Salt Lake City.
As they flew home to Seattle after losing Game 2, memories of Jeff Malone burying 20-foot jumpers from all over the baseline or hitting gravity-defying fadeaways had to be swirling in the Sonics' heads.
"There's no question he's one of the best baseline shooters in basketball, and has been for a while," said Sonics Coach George Karl. "I think he's having a hell of a series."
Malone is averaging 27.5 points against the Sonics in the first two games of the series.
"In his first year here, my recollection is his good nights were always 20 or 22 (points)," teammate Karl Malone said. "Now he's getting into the 30s and high 20s. That tells me they have confidence in him and they're giving him more opportunities."
In Utah, the NBA sun rises and sets on All-Stars Karl Malone and John Stockton. Jeff Malone, who came to the Jazz in a three-way trade involving the Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Washington Bullets before the start of last season, became known as "The Other Malone" when he arrived in Salt Lake.
But Jeff Malone, a two-time All-Star himself, said he doesn't feel slighted by the attention Karl Malone and Stockton receive. He feels they deserve it.
"They are great players, and John and Karl have been together for years, and they could be the best one-two punch in the game," Jeff Malone said. "I'm just doing my thing.
"I'm the second-leading scorer on this team and that's what they want me to do. We're winning and that's the most important thing. I know I'm a very important part of this team."
The Bullets' No. 1 pick in the 1983 draft out of Mississippi State, the 10th selection overall, Malone spent seven seasons with Washington. He said moving to Salt Lake was an adjustment.
"They're two different cities, no question about that," said Malone, 31. "But people here are real nice, the fans are behind you. It's like a college atmosphere.
"The night life is different, though."
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said Malone was brought in to take some of the scoring burden off Karl Malone and Stockton, but his defensive work, especially against Seattle's Ricky Pierce, has made him even more valuable as the Jazz seek to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Mike Brown, Utah's backup center, said Malone was the perfect addition to the team.
"We have the best passer in the NBA (Stockton), we have the best low-post man (Karl Malone)," Brown said. "Jeff just opens it up and takes a lot pressure off Karl. He's been an All-Star a couple of times and he enjoys the winning here.
"He gives us great leadership. A lot of the fellas watch him because he's always calm, always in control. He keeps his poise."
Even though Jeff Malone's defense is one of the reasons Seattle's Pierce has hit only nine of 22 field-goal attempts in the series, , Pierce sounds like a fan when he talks about his Jazz counterpart.
"He's a terrific player," Pierce said. "He's one of the best shooters I have played against.
"He won Rounds 1 and 2, but this series isn't over yet."
Sonic swingman Nate McMillan said it will take a team effort to cool down Jeff Malone. While other guards rely on slick moves and fancy ballhandling to get open, Malone uses screens to slip away from his defender and into scoring position.
"We have to get our big fellas to step up and put a hand out to give us some help on the picks," McMillan said.
Malone, who signed a four-year contract extension with the Jazz last season, said he'll have to continue his back exercises the rest of his career.
"I'm older now and I want to play four or five more years," Malone said. "I was talking to (Houston guard) Sleepy Floyd the other day and we talked about how much more stretching we do now than when we were younger.
"When I was younger, I didn't realize how important it was. Now it's just part of what I do to get ready."
He's certainly been prepared for the Sonics.