WASHINGTON - In a game in which experience was sprinkled heavily on the court, the Washington Wizards played their aging ace in the hole at just the right moment to pullout a 105-102 win over the Utah Jazz last night.
The Wizards, who were getting manhandled by the physical Jazz, turned to Charles Oakley, who hadn't seen any action this season since the opener in Toronto on Oct. 30, and he delivered.
Oakley hit two free throws with 5:50 remaining, made a big defensive play with just over 30 seconds to play - stopping John Stockton on a drive to the basket - then made the final defensive stop, twice slapping the ball out of DeShawn Stevenson's hands as he attempted a potential game-tying three-pointer in the final three seconds.
Washington blew a 21-point second-quarter lead, falling behind by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter, before Michael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse provided the offensive punch to lead the comeback.
Jordan, who had 19 points, scored the go-ahead points with 2:14 to go as he spun past Matt Harpring on the baseline, laid the ball in and was fouled. He made the free throw to give Washington a 95-92 lead.
Stackhouse, who scored 25 points to lead Washington, hit eight free throws in the final 4:33, including the final two with 4.5 seconds remaining to seal the hard-fought win.
Karl Malone scored a game-high 26 points to lead five Utah players in double figures, while his former teammate, Bryon Russell, scored 16, including four three-pointers in the second half and two free throws at the 1:13 mark for the Wizards.
The win was the 300th of Doug Collins' coaching career.
The Wizards made 34 straight free throws after Larry Hughes missed the first of two in the first quarter. They didn't miss again until Tyronn Lue was off target with 18 seconds remain ing in the game.
Trailing by eight at the half, Utah came out of the chute with a 16-7 run that gave it its first lead of the night at 56-55 on a Stockton 16-footer with 6:29 left off - what else? - a screen-and- roll with Malone. Between them, Malone and Stockton scored all but two of Utah's first 18 points of the quarter.
Mark Jackson sank a free throw with 1:58 left in the third to tie the score at 67, but Russell hit a three-pointer - his second of the quarter - to put Washington back ahead by three.
Andrei Kirilenko, who replaced Russell in the Jazz's starting lineup last year, scored on an alley-oop pass from Jack son to get Utah back to within one with 6.5 seconds left, but Jordan hit two free throws off a drive with two seconds left to give Washington a 74-71 lead after three quarters.
The Wizards, who have been victimized this season by slow starts, played as close to a perfect first quarter as possible, scoring 32 points, a season high for an opening quarter, in shoot ing 61 percent from the floor.
In addition, Washington took advantage of Utah's fouling tendencies. The Jazz had five team fouls five minutes into the game, while the Wizards had none until the 50-second mark of the period. As a result, Washington went to the line 10 times, while Utah only attempted three free throws.
The Jazz, which came in averaging nearly 19 turnovers a game, committed seven in the first quarter alone on the way to 12 in the half. Washington converted the first-quarter miscues into 12 points, taking a 32-19 lead at the end of the period.
In the second, the Jazz quickly fell behind by 21 before tightening up its defense.
NOTES: Stockton passed Robert Parish in moving into sixth place on the league's all-time minutes-played list. M-` Jordan and Stackhouse are the only two Wizards to be placed on the All-Star ballot, which was released to the public yesterday. Balloting will continue through Jan. 12 for the game, which will be played in Atlanta on Feb. 9.