The Utah Jazz have made a lot of teams healthy this year -- 45 times, to be exact. Tuesday night, the Washington Bullets took the cure, winning 112-93, at the Salt Palace.
The Bullets, who haven't lost to the Jazz since December 1976 led by only six points, 94-88, with 6:30 to play. They then erupted for the 19-point win while the host team dissolved like a wet paper towel.
"We just did some good things at the right time," said Wes Unseld. Those things included playing the first 24 minutes without a turnover and finishing with only four for the game.
The Chicago Bulls, who visit Landover in a crucial game Sunday, beat New Jersey Tuesday night to remain 20 1/2 games ahead of Washington in a battle for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
"We can't think about that," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "We are just trying to survive now. Every game is a must win. But eight of our last 11 games are at home, so we are within striking distance."
A tenacious Bullet defense pestered former De Martha star Adrian Dantley all night long. Dantly scored 21 points, 10 below his league-leading average, and he made only nine of 24 shots from the field and three of nine from the foul line. "Probably my worst shooting night since I've been in the NBA," said Dantley, showing the strain of being a marked man in every outing.
"He's had a hard year and one man can carry a team just so far," said Elvin Hayes, who was given the defensive assignment on Dantley. Hayes tried to force Dantley outside throughout the game with Kevin Porter dropping back to help on a double team. The maneuver worked.
"What teams are doing to us now is leaving our ball-handling guard alone and then dropping that man back on Dantley to help out," said Jazz Coach Tom Nissalke. "And our guards aren't hitting the open shot. I bet they are making less than 20 percent from 15 feet and out.
The Jazz shot 56 percent in the first quarter and led, 32-31, despite eight points each from the Washington front line of Hayes, Unseld and Greg Ballard.
Utah increased its lead to 10 points, 47-37, on a basket by Darrell Griffith, who finished with 17 points. But Washington scored 10 straight points to tie the game and led, 58-54, at halftime.
The Bullet lead was cut to one point at 68-67 with 6:42 to play in the third quarter, but, in almost a carbon copy of the January 20th game at Cap Centre, Washington scored nine points in a row, a three-point play by Hayes being a key.
Washington led by nine points with 12 minutes to play and the Jazz could get no closer than six points in the final quarter.