You have to believe Jazz guard Jeff Malone is wondering these days why he didn't get out of Washington sooner. All those at empty seats. The high turnover rate. The bad chemistry.
He won't say it with his lips, of course. But he said it, nonetheless, Monday night at the Salt Palace, when he checked out of the game with 2:57 to go in a 135-101 rout of the Bullets. He said it with his arms stretched ceremoniously to the sky. He said it with 28 points, and seven rebounds, both season highs. And he said it by setting what was undoubtedly some sort of team record for high-fives in a game.But being one of the NBA's true nice guys, Malone wasn't about to mention that the Bullets may have made a mistake by dealing him last summer to the Jazz. "I didn't take the trade personal," he said. "I like the guys. I like the coaches and players I played with. You know, I wanted to beat my old team, no question. But we're friends. Now I'm going to go hang out with (Bullets guard) Darrell Walker."
Certainly Monday night wasn't a night to get nasty and vindictive. The Jazz had wrapped the game up a little after the national anthem. From then on, it was as compelling as a telethon. It was one of those nights when everyone pads his stats. Karl Malone, coming off a tremendous 36-point, 16-rebound game against Portland on Sunday, came back with equally impressive numbers - 38 points and 15 rebounds. Rookie Andy Toolson checked in with his best-scoring game yet (nine points). More importanty, he held the league's second-leading scorer, Washington's Bernard King, to a scoreless first quarter. John Stockton had a game coaches drool over: 16 points, 15 assists, seven steals and seven rebounds. Mike Brown scored 13 points in just 18 minutes, and added four rebounds.
"We did what it takes all game," said Karl. "We played a lot of minutes last night (in Portland) and we came out and looked fresh tonight; you don't see that all the time. But we got after them from the start."
By all pre-game indications, the Jazz should have had more trouble with the Bullets. Behind the rejuvenated King, who at age 34 is supposed to be putting his career in the deep freeze, Washington has done better than some expected (5-11). The real shocker came last week when the Bullets stunned defending world champion Detroit, 94-83. "A much improved team," said Karl.
Well, exactly. This year the Bullets are without Jeff Malone, who only led the team in scoring four of the last five years. His reward was being traded in the off-season. Not that he took offense. Going from a sorry team like the Bullets to a contender isn't such a bad deal. "It's new to me to come out and play in front of a packed house every night," he said.
Before Jeff could even get into the act, though, Karl was already embarrassing the Bullets in the middle. When the game was 1 1/2 minutes old, the Jazz had a 9-0 lead. Stockton opened with a layup, then found Karl low for two more baskets. Stockton followed by driving for a layup and drawing a foul. "John did a great job of getting the ball to Karl early and letting him get inside. Karl's a tough matchup for them," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
Soon it was a blowout. At the end of the first period, it was obvious the Jazz were having their best night yet. They'd made almost 75 percent of their shots, Malone had 17 points, and the Bullets were trailing 43-20.
"They shot the ball well and what more can you say about it?" said Bullets' Coach Wes Unseld.
For Jeff, it was a blessedly consistent night. Having spent most of this season scoring on hot third-quarter runs, this time totaled eight points in the first, second and fourth periods. He finished by making 12 of 19 field goal attempts and four of five free throws. "I'm just hoping my shooting continues like this all week," he said.
Karl's game was equally damaging to the Bullets. He made 11 of 15 field goal attempts and 16 of 22 free throws. "A total team effort," demured Karl.
For the Bullets, there wasn't much except King. After going scoreless to start, he went wild, netting 18 points in the second period, and finishing with a team-high 24.
With 4:11 left in the third period, the Jazz had already hit their season average ; with 25 seconds to go, they had tied their season high point total (106).
Though the Jazz lead climbed to 32, there was the inevitable letdown. Sloan broke the rhythm with frequent substitutions ("It looked like we were playing out in the streets there for awhile. It wasn't much fun to watch," he said.), and Washington was able to cut the Jazz lead to 13, outscoring the Jazz 15-3 throught the mid-fourth quarter. But Thurl Bailey scored from the top of the key, Karl went inside for two more, and the game was finally an official rout.
The Jazz can hardly expect another such outinng soon. Coming attractions this week include the Pistons on Wednesday and the Lakers on Friday. Neither is likely to be personal record material.
But after losing a tough road game to Portland, and coming back to play well the next night, the Jazz weren't complaining. They may not be exactly sure what the big win meant, but it wasn't a bad sign. "Tonight," said the Mailman, "was the sign of something good."
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz, Golden Eagles, Jazz Booster Club and fans will team up again this year for the annual Sub for Santa Project. Dec. 11-15 fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped gifts, wrapping paper, clothing and other Christmas essentials, to home games. They will be delivered to needy families. . .The Jazz will make their annual visit to Primary Children's Medical Center, Thursday at 1 p.m. . . Utah has won seven of its last nine games, and beaten the Bullets seven in a row. . .Washington is 1-8 on the road this season. . .Injured forward Blue Edwards said Monday he isn't sure if he'll be able to play by Friday. . .Thurl Bailey has played in 281 straight games, the league's fifth-longest streak. . .Mike Brown has played in 150 straight games for the Jazz. . .Rookie Walter Palmer equaled his season-high, playing eight minutes. . His three points was also a personal best.