At halftime of Monday night's Utah Jazz-Washington Bullets game, the Jazz were shooting 56.5 percent but only leading by five.

It looked vaguely familiar. In the locker room, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan reminded his players where they had seen this scenario before - Saturday night in Dallas, where the Jazz scored a bushel of points but neglected to play any defense in losing to the Mavericks.Oh yeah, everyone said, and promptly went out and blistered the Bullets in the third quarter, 33-20, en route to a 128-102 victory.

"In the first half they were beating us downcourt," Sloan said. "They were 8 for 11 in fast breaks. We shot 50-some percent and were barely ahead of them."

Sloan said he warned them of where they were headed, but couldn't be sure they'd heed the warning.

"It's up to them," he said. "I can't hold a gun to their head. They have to want to win."

Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said the players remembered how dangerous a young team with nothing to lose - like the Mavericks, or the Bullets - can be.

"You never want to let a team hang around too long," Hornacek said. "The closer they stay, the more confidence they get that they can win."

The Jazz started this game as if the Dallas loss was still very fresh in their minds. They made 16 of 22 shots in the first quarter, 72.7 percent, for 39 points - their most productive first quarter this season. Hornacek scored 12 points, Karl Malone eight.

It had all been accomplished too effortlessly, however.

"We went out there and scored too many points too easy," said Jazz forward Adam Keefe.

What ensued was a dismal second quarter, during which the Jazz committed six turnovers and made just 10 of 24 shots (41.7 percent). If not for the bench, it could have been worse. The four Utah starters who played in the period - Hornacek, Malone, John Stockton and David Benoit - were a combined 2 for 11."When you want to play the game in a tuxedo, it's difficult to win," Sloan said. He added a translation: "That's when you play the game on the perimeter all the time."

In that third period, the Jazz heated up again. Stockton knocked down a three-pointer, answered by a jump shot from Chris Webber, and then Utah ripped off 10 straight points - six from Malone. The Jazz went on to shoot 66.7 percent in the quarter (14 of 21), led by 5 of 7 efforts from both Malone and David Benoit.

Anyone who watched this game hoping for a titanic clash between Malone and Webber left disappointed. The younger power forward finished with 20 points, but six of those came in the fourth quarter, while the Mailman was on the bench and the game was out of reach. In the third quarter, when he might have made a difference, Webber made 2 of 8 shots and twice watched Malone race past him for layups.

The guy who made more of a difference for the Bullets was Georghe Muresan, the 7-7 center from Romania who a couple of times was either muttering to himself or talking Romanian trash - which may amount to the same thing. Muresan scored 17 points, showed a nice touch from the free-throw line (9 of 10), grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and forced the Jazz to change several shots.

"He's not a real pretty player, but he's a very, very effective player," Sloan said. "He throws you off stride."

"When you first look at him you don't think he's going to do much, but he's come a long way since the first time we played him," Malone said.

Sloan may have been making an oblique reference to certain other Bullets when he said of Muresan, "The nice thing about it is he has fun playing basketball. It doesn't appear to be a job to him."

The Jazz led by as much as 29 in the fourth quarter, with Malone, Hornacek and center James Donaldson all resting. Stockton directed traffic for six minutes, not even attempting a shot, then sat down.

Seven Jazzmen finished in double figures. Malone was the game's high scorer, with 23; Benoit, playing his best game in a couple of weeks, totaled 18 points, six rebounds; Hornacek and Tom Chambers each had 15; Antoine Carr and Stockton contributed 14 apiece; and Adam Keefe scored 12.

For the Bullets, Webber (9 of 22 shots) and Doug Overton each totaled 20, Calbert Cheaney added 17.

The Spurs also won Monday night and remain percentage points ahead of the Jazz in the Midwest Division race.

The Jazz flew immediately after the game to Phoenix, where they will take on the Suns on Tuesday night.

GAME NOTES: Washington's Doug Overton got a technical for trying to demonstrate on referee Bernie Fryer how Stockton was holding him . . . Bullets rookie Juwan Howard missed the game with a sprained ankle . . . The Jazz outscored the Bullets in the paint, 66-40.

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Additional Information

More Jazz

See Page D10 for the following:

- Utah Jazz center Felton Spencer re-injures his left Achilles tendon.

- David Benoit breaks out of his slump and contributes mightily to the Jazz's victory.

- A late-season test awaits the Suns, who the Jazz face tonight.