The Washington Wizards played hard and well enough to take the Utah Jazz to the wire. Once there, though, the Wizards lost their shooting touch and the Jazz pulled out a 102-96 victory tonight before 19,000 at the Delta Center.
Washington scored just one field goal in the final 3 minutes 57 seconds and opened their four-game West Coast road trip with their fourth consecutive loss. Mitch Richmond's three-pointer with 22 seconds left brought the Wizards to 99-96, but three consecutive free throws by Howard Eisley and Karl Malone sealed Washington's demise.
"We had a chance to make some plays and we didn't make the plays," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "We got some pretty decent shots. We got the ball in the guys' hands that we wanted to have it. We just didn't make the shots."
Wizards center Ike Austin made a layup to bring Washington to 96-90. From there, though, Washington forward Juwan Howard turned over the ball on a bad pass, and the Wizards missed four shots, three by Austin, while Utah maintained its poise. Washington committed six turnovers in the fourth, which the Jazz converted into seven points.
The Wizards have lost their last three road games by a total of 11 points, and each time they floundered at the most crucial junctures.
"We just couldn't put it together," point guard Rod Strickland said.
Utah improved to 10-7. The Wizards fell to 5-14, their worst start since 1988. Washington's trip continues Tuesday in Los Angeles, where it will face the red-hot Lakers.
Malone had a game-high 32 points and 11 rebounds. Eisley had 18 points, making 6 of 8 shots, most from the same spot near the foul line. Jazz guard John Stockton had 10 points and 10 assists. Center Greg Ostertag had a season-high five blocks, half of Utah's total.
Richmond led the Wizards with 25 points. Strickland had 16 points and Howard had 12. Austin had 10 points. Forward Michael Smith led Washington with nine rebounds.
After Washington pulled to 87-82 on Chris Whitney's jump shot early in the fourth quarter, the Jazz scored six unanswered points to take its biggest lead at 93-82 with 7:30 left. The Wizards answered with a 5-0 run to get within six, a deficit they revisited later in the period after Austin's layup made the score 96-90.
The Jazz missed several jump shots late, opening the door for the Wizards, but turnovers and missed shots spoiled any chances of a comeback victory.
Utah used a 14-2 run early in the third quarter to pull ahead by 12 and took a 71-61 lead into the fourth. That run turned the momentum of the game.
The Wizards opened up the second half with a 6-0 run, capped by Strickland's driving layup that gave Washington a 55-52 lead. The Jazz, which missed its first three shots in the period, countered with the blistering run, which was highlighted by three-pointers from Bryon Russell and Jeff Hornacek.
For the first time, Washington got careless with the ball and also abandoned its successful first-half interior game. Hurting Washington more was Utah's ability to get second and third chances on offense.
The Jazz recorded six offensive rebounds in the period and scored 10 second-chance points.
"When they shot and kept getting it back, that was the thing that turned the game around," Heard said.
Added Howard: "If we could erase that third quarter, we could have done a better job rebounding, the game would have been won on our end."
Wizards Notes: Austin, who tonight played his second game after breaking his nose last Friday against Toronto, will have to wear the same temporary protective mask he wore against the Sacramento Kings for at least one more game.
A custom-fitted face guard will not be ready until Thursday's game at Phoenix, Austin said.
In Saturday's game against Sacramento, Austin was hit in the face guard early in the second half by Kings center Vlade Divac and his nose bled profusely. He was unable to return.
"It's tough because the mask kind of blocks your view," Austin said. "At the same time you really don't want to get hit again, so it's something different."