Wizards top Jazz to halt skid at 3 31-19 third-quarter rally improves Washington to 5-0 at MCI Center

December 16, 1997|By Brant James | Brant James,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

WASHINGTON -- Apparently tired of finding ways not to win in the fourth quarter, the Washington Wizards ended a three-game losing streak last night at the MCI Center by barely finding a way not to lose.

Fresh off an 0-3 road trip in which they fell short in the final %J minutes against Charlotte and were outscored 68-39 in blowing fourth-quarter leads against Boston and Indiana, the Wizards survived a last-ditch attempt to tie by John Stockton and beat the Utah Jazz, 88-86. The victory kept the Wizards unbeaten in their five games at the MCI Center.

"We needed this win, obviously," Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "Now we just have to try and keep digging ourselves out of that hole again."

Washington (10-14), which trailed by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, used a 31-19 third-quarter blitz to take a 70-64 lead into the fourth. But a letdown allowed Utah to retake the lead twice in the final 4: 07.

Shandon Anderson's short jumper gave the Jazz an 82-81 lead with 2: 39 left, but Juwan Howard, who led the Wizards with 21 points, popped in a layup off a Rod Strickland pass 17 seconds later, and the Wizards never trailed again.

Strickland saw to it that the suspense continued, however, missing three of four foul shots in the final 10 seconds to give the Jazz hope.

Karl Malone, who led all scorers with 26 points, hit an 11-footer to draw the Jazz (13-9) within 87-84 with 56.4 seconds left, and Stockton banked in a running 6-footer with 9.8 seconds left to cut the margin to 87-86.

Utah immediately fouled Strickland on the inbounds pass, and the guard missed the first of two shots to guarantee the Jazz a chance for a victory on what appeared to be its last possession.

Stockton broke open briefly on the next trip, drew a double team and passed to Malone just inside the three-point line. But Malone, who hit four of six shots in the fourth quarter, fired too hard off the back iron, and Strickland snagged the rebound.

"I had that open shot, and I just missed it," Malone said. "The thing that hurts is that the team played decent, but this was the worst game I have ever played in my life."

Jeff Hornacek quickly fouled Strickland with three seconds remaining. This time Strickland missed both shots to give Stockton and the Jazz one last shot.

After a 20-second timeout, Stockton, who played only 17 minutes in his fourth game since coming off the disabled list, took the foot inbounds pass, drove along the left sideline but missed a 20-footer at the buzzer.

Utah cut the Wizards apart with its sharp interior passing game ** in the first half, but an improved defensive effort from Terry Davis -- who finished with a career-high five steals and 13 rebounds, eight defensive -- allowed Washington to survive a 35-percent shooting night from the field and mount the comeback.

Strickland, who missed his first seven shots, sparked the third-quarter turnaround when he sank an 18-footer to pull Washington within 51-46. He gave the Wizards a 56-55 lead with two consecutive layups in transition with 5: 11 left in the third period, and hit Tracy Murray with passes for a three-pointer and a layup within 30 seconds of each other to give Washington its biggest lead, 62-55. Strickland and Murray each finished with 13 points.

"Rod got us going with his play off the dribble," Bickerstaff said. "He was able to create some things after a tough start."

Murray -- who spelled an ineffective Chris Webber for 25 minutes -- and Strickland openly acknowledged each other on the court during their spurt. Both players were still sporting scrapes after their hotel room altercation in Charlotte, N.C., but all, for the moment, seemed forgiven.

Utah .... .27 18 19 22 -- 86

Washington 16 23 31 18 -- 88

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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