LANDOVER -- Utah guard Jeff Malone said he wouldn't do it. Said he wouldn't put his arms in the air and clench his fists in victory, if the Jazz won. Said he just couldn't do it. Not here. Not against his former teammates.
But he did.
"I couldn't hide the fact that I'm glad we won," he said after Utah's 104-93 victory at the Capital Centre last night. "It's a tough situation, but I don't feel bad about winning. The Bullets, they'll get going. Hopefully, one day, they'll turn it around."
It was Malone's first appearance here since he was traded in a three-way deal that brought center Pervis Ellison to Washington.
About this time a year ago, Malone was in the home team's locker room, being quizzed about his future as a Bullet and about the Bullets' future in the playoffs. But while the Bullets remain locked in a playoff time-warp, it is a whole new world for Malone.
Last night, Bernard King scored 50 points for the second time this season, and the Bullets still lost by 11. King and Ellison, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds, accounted for all but 20 of the Bullets points. And the Bullets hustled on defense, playing a masterful trap and press in the third quarter as they cut an 18-point deficit to three.
But, as has been the case lately, the recovery didn't last. Utah point guard John Stockton turned in a superb performance, producing 27 points and 16 assists.
In the second quarter, with the score tied at 34, Stockton turned in a perfect 7 1/2 -minute performance.
In that time, he was 5-for-5 from the field (3-for-3 on three-pointers), made two free throws, and assisted on the three baskets he didn't score in the 21-point production. He also made two steals.
Stockton's three-pointers were born of desperation, demonstrating how this Bullets season is going.
"The Bullets played such solid defense our guys couldn't get a shot off, so they'd pop the ball back to me with time running out on the shot clock," said Stockton. "My only choice was to shoot. I was fortunate my threes went down."
If Stockton had good fortune last night, Jeff Malone has had good fortune since the Bullets traded him.
"The transition has been a lot easier than I expected," he said, after collecting a season-high nine rebounds to go with his 17 points. "The guys on this team are good guys, like the Bullets are good guys. But the biggest difference is that I don't have the pressure on me like before.
"I can go out and score 15 to 20 points and know I've helped us win. I know that Karl [Malone, 19 points last night, nine below his average] will produce and so will the other guys. And we win. That feels a lot better than scoring 30 or 40 points, like I did for the Bullets, and losing."
The Bullets, on a seven-game losing streak, are still talking about making the playoffs.
"We all want to end this streak," said guard Darrell Walker. "We still can make the playoffs, but we've got to start winning. I know some people think we'd be better off losing and being in the lottery. But with our luck we'd probably wind up with the ninth pick. And if the difference is picking ninth in the lottery and picking 13th and going to the playoffs, I'd rather go to the playoffs."
Last night, Jeff Malone was also talking about the playoffs, about how the Jazz has the third-best record in the Western Conference and a real shot at the No. 2 seed.
Reminded how different his perspective is from a year ago, he left little doubt about how lucky he is.
"It's a great feeling to be where I am," he said. "At this point in my career, to be on a team like this, to be contributing and winning; I'm just trying to take it all in stride."