For the youthful Milwaukee Bucks, Sunday's game against the Utah Jazz was a learning experience.
Among other things, the Bucks learned that when you've got a lead at home, protecting the ball is your number-one priority. But they learned it by committing 26 turnovers and losing to a tired Jazz team, 101-98."They taught us a lesson," Bucks guard Eric Murdock said. "They made us pay for our mistakes."
The Jazz also made a few mistakes, not the least of which was sleepwalking through the first quarter. Milwaukee jumped out to an 11-point lead, 24-13, as the Jazz had problems scoring against a rested team that hadn't played since Wednesday.
"We looked like we'd played four games in five days," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "It really looked as if it was going to be a long night."
To counter that, Sloan went to his bench early. Jazz guard John Crotty said he saw it coming.
"I think we got a sense of that from the start," Crotty said. "The team needed a jump start."
They got it. Tom Chambers was on the floor for the entire second quarter, Antoine Carr and Bryon Russell played most of the quarter. By halftime, the Jazz bench had totaled 24 points, the Utah starters 25 points.
"That's the thing about our team, is that from one to 12, guys can come in off the bench and help," Carr said.
That help is one reason the Jazz have won eight games in a row on the road (a franchise record), five in a row overall, increasing their Midwest Division lead to 1 1/2 games over the idle Houston Rockets.
Another reason is that the Jazz are simply out-executing opponents down the stretch of close games. Milwaukee had a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, and if the Bucks could have eliminated a few mistakes, could have won this game.
"Unfortunately, we had a couple of defensive lapses," said Milwaukee's Todd Day. "Those were costly."
The costliest "lapses," and the ones Day probably was referring to, were committed by the Bucks' No. 1 draft pick, Glenn Robinson - though his weren't just defensive. After the Bucks took that five-point lead, Robinson had a short stretch in which he traveled on back-to-back possessions, then was found guilty of two illegal-defense violations. He also missed four shots (he did make one) in the final two minutes.
The key shot for the Jazz, meanwhile, was made by Jeff Hornacek. With Utah up 95-94 and about a minute left, Hornacek knocked down a three-pointer over the fingertips of a Buck defender.
"Big shot," said John Stockton. "Kind of a space-giver."
The Jazz needed all the space they could get. After Hornacek's three, Murdock drove a wide-open lane to cut the Utah lead to two, but Stockton answered with a drive of his own on the other end. Murdock hit a leaner to narrow the lead again, after which he tried to draw a charging foul (looked like a flop), that instead went against him and put Stockton on the line. Stockton made one, giving the Bucks a chance to tie with a three-pointer.
On the game's final sequence, Robinson missed two three-point attempts and Vin Baker missed another. None was particularly close.
"We had some good looks at the basket," Murdock said. "You couldn't have asked for better shots." They might have asked for different guys to take them, however. Robinson has shot 25 percent from the arc, Baker had attempted two three-pointers all season.
One highlight of this game was Karl Malone's moving past both Tom Chambers and Bernard King on the NBA all-time scoring list. Malone came into the game in 21st place, needing 18 to pass King; Chambers was in 20th, needing 14 to move up a notch. But Chambers got just five, while Malone scored 27, leaving the Mailman in 19th and dropping Chambers to 21st.
"I was kidding with Karl before the game that if I got 22 tries a night, then we could have a competition," Chambers said.
Statistically, the Jazz were led by all the usual guys, though each posted more negative numbers than usual, too. After a 6-for-15 start, Malone ended up hitting 11 of 22 shots, but he had just four rebounds. Stockton totaled 12 points and 15 assists but committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers; early in the second quarter, he had more giveaways (four) than assists (three). Hornacek had taken four shots at halftime but ended up with 20 points (7 of 14), with five turnovers. Center Felton Spencer played just 20 minutes and had several shots blocked; he accounted for a good share of the Bucks' nine blocks. Antoine Carr played more minutes than Spencer, hitting five of six shots for 10 points.
For the Bucks, Day led with 23 points, Murdock scored 19 (off the bench), and Robinson contributed 18 (8 of 21).
Monday is a rest/travel day for the Jazz; they go to Philadelphia to meet the Sixers on Tuesday.
GAME NOTES: Chambers got a technical after Alton Lister elbowed him in the back of the head and Chambers suggested he not do that again. "I guess you can't talk to other people," Chambers said . . . After getting a technical in Chicago for hanging on the rim after dunking, Russell missed a dunk here . . . The officials seemed to have a tough time making goal-tending calls. Both teams appeared to get away with goal-tends, including one where Lister loudly whanged the rim with his hand.