The road winning streak had stretched to four straight games and the Jazz had weathered another storm. An awful third-quarter slump and a near-record, 50-point performance by Bernard King had passed without serious damage. And once again, the Jazz's Karl Malone was talking of the bottom line.
"I don't really care if he (King) scored 60, just so long as we win," said Malone. "If it's the most by an opponent against the Jazz, so be it."Lately, the Jazz aren't worrying much about anyone. King and the Bullets were just the latest in a string of victims strewn along the Jazz's longest road trip of the year.
Wednesday night at the Capital Centre, Jazz guard John Stockton almost single-handedly averted a Jazz collapse, finishing with 27 points and 16 assists as the Jazz beat the Bullets, 104-93.
While the Jazz won the war, Washington won the battle for highlight film material. King, the league's second-leading scorer, was something out of Dennis Rodman's nightmare. His 50 points was the second-most ever scored by a Jazz opponent since the team moved to Utah. (The record is 52 by Joe Barry Carroll in March, 1983.) In the first quarter King pumped in 20 points; by halftime he had rung up 26 and counting.
"It was just a tremendous game," said Stockton. "I'm just proud of the defensive guys we have that go out and guard at that position. He was just tremendous."
For the benefit of the 11,729 in attendance, King put on a shooting clinic. Most points came off his quick step as he floated toward the basket. Some came on driving layups and others on the perimeter. In the first half he hit 10 of 13 attempts.
Try as they might, the Jazz had no effective defense against King's attack. They began with Thurl Bailey, proceeded with Tony Brown and for a few minutes tried rookie Andy Toolson. But neither anyone from the Jazz nor the French Foreign Legion could have stopped King.
While King was at his most productive, the Bullets weren't. Other than the aging King, and rising young star Pervis Ellison, Washington was awash with mediocrity.
If King provided the highlight material, Stockton took care of everything else. Stockton began his own show-stopping performance in the second period, scoring 15 points. Three times in the quarter the Jazz failed to get a good shot, instead dumping the ball out to Stockton as the shot clock ran down. Each time he landed a home run shot to keep the Bullets at bay. In a five-minute sequence he had 13 points, two assists and a steal, which led to an eventual 14-point lead before the break.As the Jazz were preparing to put a wrap on the night, building the lead to 17 points in the third quarter, they suddenly found themselves trying to hold back the floodgates. Occupied with finding new ways to keep King from going inside, Pervis Ellion began doing serious damage. Ellison's rebound shot near the end of the third period pulled the Bullets within three, at 78-75.
Meanwhile, the Jazz were standing around the perimeter, trying but not succeeding at getting good shots inside for Karl Malone. "We just weren't attacking the basket. We were passing it around like we were trying to run the clock down," said Jeff Malone. "We just stood around, and it's not good to do that."
The Bullets, who never got the lead below three, hung close to the Jazz thanks to another King spurt of points in the final period. But with 8:34 left to go, Stockton drew a goal-tending call, made two free throws and Tony Brown hit a breakaway shot and drew a foul to build the lead back up to 11.
Stockton's brilliant assist to Eaton with 4:01 to go produced a basket and a free throw for a 100-89 lead.
Given the lead the Jazz nearly blew, and the way they struggled to hold off a team that has now lost seven straight and 16 of 20, Coach Jerry Sloan was somewhere between cautiously happy and relieved.
"I wasn't real pleased with the way we played. Considering the way we have been playing, I wasn't real pleased tonight," he said.
Stockton, of course, was the exception. His numbers included 9-of-12 shooting (3-for-3 from three-point range), three rebounds and five steals. "A terrific game," said Sloan. "He kept us alive. Every time something went wrong for us, he came up with the ball."
The two Malones had sub-par nights. Karl finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, held in check by the double-teaming of the Bullets. Jeff, in his return to Washington where he spent seven years, finished with 17 points, but contributed an impressive nine rebounds.
As the Jazz move on, jockeying for their run at the Midwest Division title, the Bullets are already making their plans for summer vacation.
"It's been tough," said the Bullets' Darrell Walker to reporters. "I'm tired of losing and I'm sure you guys are tired of writing about us losing."
But as far as anyone in Washington can tell, there is no relief in sight - for either players or writers assigned to the Washington Bullets.
GAME NOTES: The Jazz have won nine of their last 11 games and four in a row on the road . . . Utah is 35-5 when scoring 100-plus points . . . They are now just one game off their 55-win pace last year.