He may have made weirder shots before, but nobody could remember when. Even by Jeff Malone's standards, this was stretching things.
He was 20 feet out and the 24-second clock was on its last tick. Charlotte guard Rex Chapman was hanging around him like a polyester necktie. He was too far out, under too much pressure and had too little time to get it off. Teammate Karl Malone exclaimed, "I don't understand how he got it off, let alone (how he) hit it."Nevertheless, it went in.
The basket gave the Jazz a five-point lead with 24 seconds to go, as they held on to beat Charlotte 105-100 Tuesday night at Charlotte Coliseum.
And so the Jazz continued their trip down the East Coast without a loss, sweating it out to the final minutes against some of the dredges of the NBA. So far they're 2-for-2, having beaten New Jersey and Charlotte on consecutive nights. Next up: the Atlanta Hawks, the best team on the five-game, seven-day trip. But even the Hawks are only 11-11. That will be followed by games at Orlando and Miami, two teams that are doing a great job of holding down last place in their respective divisions.
At this stage, the Jazz aren't being choosy about whom they beat. After winning six in a row, they suddenly got lethargic, losing to the last-place team in the Central Division, Indiana, last Saturday. Having played poorly against one bad team, they decided to make it two. Only a missed tip-in at the buzzer against New Jersey on Monday prevented more trouble.
Then came Charlotte. Although the Jazz shot well enough (53 percent), out-rebounded the Hornets (42-38) and committed an acceptable 17 turnovers, they didn't factor in one thing: the Hornets would play a commendable game.
The damages inflicted by the Hornets were considerable. Johnny Newman, acquired during the off-season, rang up 22 points. Armon Gilliam, buoyed by the thrill of playing head-on against Karl Malone, got 23. J.R. Reid and Rex Chapman totaled 17 and 18 points, respectively.
The Hornets bolted to a 14-6 lead as the Jazz got off to a dismal start, missing eight of their first 10 shots. But by the time the quarter had ended, Utah had come back to pull within two points.
However, the early second quarter was as bad for the Jazz as the first. Charlotte scored the first 10 points, to go ahead 36-24. "They were playing really well and I wasn't sure if we could hang in there with them," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
Again, the Jazz caught up, Karl Malone finishing the half with 11 rebounds and 19 points. For the game he led Utah in both areas, scoring 30 points and collecting 17 rebounds.
Poor free throw shooting, a problem that would bother the Jazz all night, made an early appearance and stayed late. The Jazz missed five of 12 free throws in the first half and finished only 18-for-30. "I think we've played better," said Sloan.
Near the end of the third period, with Charlotte nursing a two-point lead, Karl Malone drew the wrath of the 23,901 fans in attendance, when he had a shot blocked by Randolph Keys. Malone smiled and beckoned at the crowd with both arms. Everyone in the house began shouting at the Mailman.
"Rudy blocked the shot and after that he (Malone) wasn't so confident just stepping in the lane and shooting," said Hornets' Coach Gene Littles.
Meanwhile, Malone said he was just having some fun on a Tuesday night. "They just don't know that I love that (jeering)," said Malone. "That's why I do all that. We're in the entertainment business and that's part of it. It's all in fun."
As the fourth quarter rolled around, the Jazz began to establish themselves, outscoring the Hornets 14-6 to lead by nine. While Charlotte was going through a run of low-percentage outside shots, the Jazz were scoring on transition baskets and short jumpers.
The Hornets were able to get Utah's lead down to three points three times in the final 1:18, but never got closer. Thurl Bailey's jump-hook at :58 seconds kept the Hornets back until Jeff took his fall-away. "Just an incredible shot," said Sloan.
With 11 seconds left, Jeff added a pair of free throws for a safe 103-98 lead.
After the contest, the Doctor of Fadeology himself was typically understated. It may have been difficult and it may have been low-percentage, but it was all his.
"I like to shoot fades and off-balance shots," he said. "It didn't feel uncomfortable to me and it went in. When I have trouble is when I have an open shot."
GAME NOTES: Jazz guard John Stockton recorded 11 assists to move past Dave Bing into the No. 16 spot on the alltime NBA assist list. Stockton has compiled 5,403 assists in 512 games, while Bing collected 5,397 in 901 games . . . Utah holds a 7-1 series lead over the Hornets, including a 4-0 advantage in Charlotte . . . After a franchise-record 8-7 November, the Hornets are 0-7 in December . . . The Hornets have sold out 81 straight games . . . Karl Malone has scored 30 or more points in four of the last five games.