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Jazz quench Bullets’ fire-breathing act

SHARE Jazz quench Bullets’ fire-breathing act

After stumbling around on the road for most of the past few months, the Utah Jazz suddenly look like the road-warrior team of recent seasons.

Saturday night at USAir Arena, the Jazz withstood a determined start by the underachieving Washington Bullets to post a 100-93 victory. It was Utah's third-straight road win, its fourth in five tries on this seven-game excursion.In a wild contest that featured five technical fouls in the first half, the Jazz managed to win despite scoring 12 points in the second quarter, despite making just 10 of 30 shots in the first half, despite looking like a team playing its fourth game in five nights - as tough a stretch as the NBA offers.

The Jazz did get a little help, of the unintentional variety, from Bullets power forward Chris Webber, who raged around like a madman for 13 minutes, dunking and trash-talking and glaring at Jazz center Greg Ostertag (who was safely ensconced on the bench at the time) before getting himself tossed with two quick technical fouls after committing a charge against Jazz forward Stephen Howard.

"In the long run it hurt them a lot, not having that big man in there," Howard said. "I knew eventually we'd be able to wear their big men down."

How much Webber's ejection helped the Jazz cause is arguable. After all, Utah has beaten this team before, with Webber. When Webber left, the Jazz were down by four and the Bullets proceeded to play their best stretch of the night. Someone pointed to the Jazz's edge on the boards as evidence that Webber wasn't around, but hey, the guy played 13 minutes and didn't get a sniff at a rebound.

Bigger factors were these: 1. The Jazz adjusting to Washington's ploy of camping the Amazing Colossal Center, GheorgheMuresan, in the key on defense; and 2. The Jazz's newfound (or at least recently rediscovered) patience and confidence.

Muresan did cause the Jazz big problems in that first half. With nary a single illegal-defense warning, the Bullets repeatedly got away with having Muresan roam the key. In past games, the Jazz have been able to pull him out of the key by planting their center up above the 3-point circle, thus leaving the paint open for layups. This time, when the Jazz went to the hoop, the promethean Romanian was there, his arms stretched to approximately Jumbotron height.

In the second half, the Jazz ran some different offensive sets at the Bullets. Utah scored 36 in the third quarter, as much as they'd scored in the first two quarters combined.

"We rely on getting teams to be legal, and if they (the officials) don't call illegal defenses we have a hard time running some plays," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek.

As for the other factor, well, this is the road squad everyone - including the players themselves - expected to see all season. It was a classic Jazz road script: Stay within striking distance as the opponent comes out smoking, and when the opponent falters, move in for the kill.

"It seems like a lot of these teams are coming jacked-up to play us," said Hornacek.

"Every team on the road is coming out trying to stroke it and blow us out of the building," Malone said. "We just keep our nose to the grindstone and continue to play."

This game promised wild moments early. Besides early foul trouble on just about everyone over 6-foot-6 on both teams and the rash of T's, there was the foul by Ostertag on Webber that prompted the Jazz center to sarcastically ask the ref if he thought he'd hurt the Bullets forward. But Webber thought Ostertag was talking to him and spent the rest of his remaining few minutes trying to stare down the Jazz center, when he wasn't jawing at him. Ostertag couldn't help responding.

"If he was going to talk it, I was just going to give it back to him," Ostertag said.

When the Jazz weren't committing T's and turnovers, they were having a real tough time getting shots off. In the second quarter they scored all of three field goals, while the Bullets fired away at 52.8 percent for the half and led by 11 at intermission. Malone had 14 by that point, but no other Jazzman had more than four. It was easily Utah's worst half on this trip.

"They played as hard as they could the first half," Hornacek said. "But that emotional high can't last the whole game."

The Jazz got a lift at the start of the second half from Juwan Howard, who committed his fourth foul on Utah's opening possession. He remained in for the entire quarter but was unable to play much defense, which has to be partly responsible for the Jazz's ability to take a 72-67 lead at the end of three.

The Bullets did go in front a couple of times early in the fourth quarter, but in the final 5:20 the Jazz scored on seven of 10 possessions, the Bullets on four of 10.

"All of a sudden guys did one or two positive things, and we were able to creep back into it," said Malone, who posted game highs of 32 points and 10 rebounds.

It may take more than that, however, for the Jazz to win their next game, which could be their toughest on the trip. It's against the Hornets on Monday in Charlotte.