SALT LAKE CITY -- In the corner of the Washington Bullets' locker room, after getting blown out by the Utah Jazz, guard Rod Strickland sat with a look of disgust on his face, and laughed.
"Laugh or cry," Strickland said, shaking his head. "I'm not about to cry."
No one could blame Strickland, or any of the Bullets, for crying after what went the past two nights. One night after losing by 30 points to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bullets were crushed by the Jazz, 111-89, before a sellout crowd at the Delta Center.
And the Bullets may have a bit more bad news as forward Chris Webber sprained his left ankle at the start of the second quarter. Webber returned to play the final 3: 11 of the half. But he had a noticeable limp, and did not play the second half. His status is questionable for tomorrow's game in Denver, the end of a horrific four-game trip for Washington, which has lost nine of its last 12 games -- including six straight on the road.
The Bullets have now lost by a combined 52 points over two nights, the worst losses by the Bullets in back-to-back games since the opening month of the 1992 season when they lost by 39 points and 27 points -- a combined 66 -- on consecutive nights.
The only reason that total wasn't approached last night was because the Jazz, which led by as many as 38 points in the third quarter, put its game in neutral for the final quarter. Karl Malone led Utah with 24 points in 27 minutes.
"It wasn't much of a game; it was boring actually," said Utah's Jeff Hornacek, who played 23 minutes. "This didn't seem like that much of a test."
So now a team that many thought would contend for the Atlantic Division title is getting closer to a lottery pick than the playoffs. And the players aren't happy about it.
Antoine Carr driving the lane for an uncontested dunk in the third quarter so frustrated Strickland that he kicked the scorer's table and nearly threw his mouthpiece into the crowd as he approached the bench for a timeout.
"I was getting ready to, but I said, 'Dag, if I hit somebody in the head with this, they might try to sue me,' " Strickland said. "I have never been through anything like this. Not back to back."
Webber also said that back-to-back losses like the last two have never happened to him. And so did Howard.
"Never," said Howard, who missed nine of 14 shots. "On any level of play, high school, college, and now the NBA."
Usually teams that get blown out look forward to playing the next night. Tracy Murray, a native of Los Angeles, said before last night's game that going home and losing, 129-99, to the Lakers was "the worst loss I have ever been involved in."
Just under three minutes into last night's game, the Bullets already were facing a double-digit deficit. Washington would score only 14 points in the first quarter, and trailed 32-14.
From the end of the first quarter to early in the second quarter, the Bullets went through a stretch of 6: 48 without scoring. When Malone hit two free throws with a minute left in the half, the Jazz had a 60-27 lead.
On Sunday, the Lakers used their fast break to run the Bullets into the ground. Last night, the Jazz ran its pick-and-roll offense to perfection, with Malone scoring inside and the rest of the team hitting perimeter shots.
"We got blitzed," Webber said. "A whole different way, a whole different team."
Said Strickland: "Defensively we were terrible. If we can't get it done defensively, then we're in trouble. We were just bad."
When the Bullets went into this four-game road trip, they were hoping for at least a split. But now they must defeat Denver tomorrow to avoid getting swept.
"This team, we have to find some way to correct some things within the family," Howard said. "We have to find out what the problem is.
"All of us are surprised, including the coaching staff," he added. "To play like the way we did today, it's truly an embarrassment."
By the way, a Utah forward named Stephen Howard, playing on the last day of a 10-day contract before being re-signed for the rest of the season, outscored $100 million Juwan Howard, 16-10. While playing 10 fewer minutes. It was one of those games.
NOTES: Injured guard Tim Legler (sore hamstring) will begin running drills over the next two days and a decision will be made by the end of the week whether he will defend his three-point shootout title on Saturday during All-Star Weekend. Utah starting center Greg Ostertag missed most of the game -- his wife had a baby daughter, Bailey Nicole, at 6: 05 p.m. Ostertag arrived at the arena in the second half, played 11 minutes and scored seven points.
Since going a season-high four games over .500 with a win at Cleveland on Jan. 11, the Bullets have slumped, losing nine of 12:
Date .. ..Opponent .. .. .. ..Result
1-13 .. ..at Miami .. .. ...L, 98-95
1-14 .. ..at Chicago .. ....L, 108-107
1-17 .. ..Miami .. .. . ....L, 103-92
1-18 .. ..at Boston .. .. ..W, 112-106
1-20 .. ..at New York .. ...L, 95-79
1-21 .. ..at Orlando .. .. .L, 93-88
1-24 .. ..at Atlanta .. .. .L, 117-105*
1-25 .. ..Sacramento .. .. .W, 113-105
1-28 .. ..Orlando .. .. .. .W, 102-82
1-31 .. ..at Seattle .. .. .L, 97-95
2-2 .. ...at L.A. Lakers ...L, 129-99
2-3 .. ...at Utah .. .. .. .L, 111-89
Pub Date: 2/04/97