The momentum the Washington Wizards carried into last night's game lasted about 23 minutes. After that, they started spoiling any chances for rare back-to-back victories and set up a 101-80 blowout to the Utah Jazz that so angered Coach Gar Heard that he called their play "soft" and suggested lineup changes might be in order.
"We played soft all the way around, from the beginning to the end," Heard said after the Wizards scored 36 points in the second half and failed to make a field goal for the last 8 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. "We didn't play like we did [during Saturday's victory] against San Antonio."
Many of the Wizards, including point guard Rod Strickland and forward Juwan Howard, who had just one rebound in the game, disagreed with Heard's assessment.
"Ain't nothing soft about me," said Strickland, who was 6 of 8 from the field and led the Wizards with 18 points. "Ain't nothing soft about anyone in here."
Said Howard: "He's the coach. Whatever he says. . . . It's tough playing the small-forward position when guys get you to the outside. It would be nice to play your natural [power forward] position. . . . They want me to play small forward. For the good of the team, I'm going to do that."
After his usual news conference, Heard talked briefly about altering the lineup for Thursday's home game against the New Jersey Nets.
"I have to look at that," he said without being more specific. "We really came out flat in the third quarter."
Earlier, he said: "I like aggressive play. I tell a guy, 'You've got six fouls; you should use at least five of 'em. Just don't let a guy turn and shoot.' "
Washington's problems started near the end of the first half, when the Jazz converted a putback and the Wizards allowed point guard John Stockton to drive the length of the court for a layup that narrowed Washington's lead to 44-43 at halftime.
After the Wizards took a 50-49 lead in the third, the Jazz assured its sixth straight victory by ripping off an 18-3 run sparked by Karl Malone (34 points, 12 rebounds). Utah forced five turnovers, and the Wizards missed 15 of 18 field goal attempts in the third quarter.
The loss dropped the Wizards to 3-8 at home.
"It seems like we play better on the road," said Heard, whose team is 3-9 away from home. "We've got to find what's the problem. . . . I'm scared to find the answer."
Washington's shooters, Mitch Richmond and Tracy Murray, were off most of the game. Richmond, who finished with 17 points, made just 2 of 9 shots during the first three quarters and had six turnovers in all. Murray was 1 for 8 for the game.
Heard showed the team films of the San Antonio game before a shoot-around earlier in the day and said he thought those positive visions would help going into the game. They did early on: The Wizards made 7 of their first 11 shots and turned some rare offensive work from power forward Michael Smith into a halftime lead.
In the opening minutes, Smith scored eight points, as many as the more esteemed player he was guarding, Malone. Smith scored most of his points from the inside, on a putback and two easy baskets on nice feeds from Strickland and Ike Austin.
Heard said he would not hesitate to go to his bench and followed up on that by rushing Jahidi White into the game for Austin with more than four minutes left in the opening period. That paid off almost instantly when White and another backup, power forward Aaron Williams, helped the Wizards gain a 10-rebound advantage late in the second quarter.
Neither team led by more than a few points in the first half--and the last of Strickland's five baskets gave the Wizards a three-point lead with seven seconds left. That is when the downfall began, as Stockton drove the length of the court and hit a layup at the buzzer.
The Jazz gained a 57-52 lead midway through the third quarter on two baskets by Jeff Hornacek, four points from Malone and a flying dunk by Bryon Russell. That domination continued the remainder of the period, as Washington went without a field goal for the final 8 minutes 35 seconds and fell behind by 72-57 entering the final quarter.
Malone made his usual assortment of moves down low and on turnarounds with Smith and Williams in his face.
"Every shot was contested," Smith said. "He just made the shots."
Said Austin: "Maybe we should have double-teamed him more. We've got to get over this, stay mentally tough."