WASHINGTON -- Apparently tired of finding ways not to win in the fourth quarter, the Washington Wizards ended a three-game losing streak last night at the MCI Center by barely finding a way not to lose.
Fresh off an 0-3 road trip in which they fell short in the final minutes against Charlotte and were outscored 68-39 in blowing fourth-quarter leads against Boston and Indiana, the Wizards survived a last-ditch attempt to tie by John Stockton in beating the Utah Jazz, 88-86. The victory kept the Wizards unbeaten in their five games at the MCI Center.
"We needed this win, obviously," Wizards head coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "Now we just have to try and keep digging ourselves out of that hole again."
Washington (10-14), which trailed by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, used a 31-19 third-quarter blitz to take a 70-64 lead into the fourth. But a letdown allowed Utah to retake the lead twice in the final 4: 07.
Shandon Anderson's short jumper gave the Jazz an 82-81 lead with 2: 39 left, but Juwan Howard, who led the Wizards with 21 points, popped in a layup off a Rod Strickland pass 17 seconds later, and the Wizards never trailed again.
Strickland saw to it the suspense continued, however, missing three of four foul shots in the final 10 seconds to give the Jazz hope.
Karl Malone, who led all scorers with 26 points, hit an 11-footer to draw the Jazz (13-9) within 87-84 with 56.4 seconds left, and Stockton banked in a running 6-footer with 9.8 seconds left to cut the margin to 87-86.
With Utah trailing 88-86 with six seconds left, Malone missed a 21-footer but rebounded Strickland's final miss. After a 20-second timeout, Stockton, who played only 17 minutes in his fourth game since coming off the disabled list, took the 70-foot inbounds pass, drove along the left sideline but missed a 20-footer at the buzzer.
"I had that open shot, and I just missed it," Malone said. "The thing that hurts is that the team played decent, but this was the worst game I have ever played in my life."
Utah cut the Wizards apart with its sharp interior passing game in the first half, but an improved defensive effort from Terry Davis -- who finished with a career-high five steals and 13 rebounds, eight defensive -- allowed Washington to survive a 35-percent shooting night from the field and mount the comeback.
Strickland, who missed his first seven field-goal attempts, sparked the third-quarter turnaround when he sank an 18-footer to pull Washington within 51-46. He gave the Wizards a 56-55 lead with two consecutive layups in transition with 5: 11 left in the third period, and hit Tracy Murray with passes for a three-pointer and a layup within 30 seconds of each other to give Washington its biggest lead, 62-55. Strickland and Murray each finished with 13 points.
"Rod got us going with his play off the dribble," Bickerstaff said. "He was able to create some things after a tough start."
Washington trailed 45-39 at halftime, using a four-minute Jazz scoring drought late in the second period to avert what appeared several times to be a blowout.
Washington cobbled together a 7-0 run in the final three minutes of the half to pare a 13-point deficit, and Ledell Eackles hit a fallaway two-pointer at the halftime buzzer off a Howard inbounds pass to set the score at intermission.
Utah led by 14 points twice in the first period, taking advantage of a Wizards defense that was often motionless.
The win gave Washington its first sweep of Utah since the 1982-83 season, and improved it to 8-0 against the Western Conference.
Utah ........ 27 .. 18 .. 19 .. 22 .. -- .. 86
Washington .. 16 .. 23 .. 31 .. 18 .. -- .. 88
Pub Date: 12/16/97