It has been a good, long time since it happened, but the Utah Jazz apparently haven't forgotten how to lose big. Remember November? You know, Boston, Reggie Lewis . . . 114-89?
For weeks, that was just a bad memory. Thursday night it all came rushing back as the Hawks smashed the Jazz, 105-87.Oh yes. The silly turnovers. The lack of rebounding. And (surely you remember this) the bad shooting. That kind of game.
In hindsight, the big loss has been coming for some time. Last weekend, the Jazz lost to a sorry Indiana Pacer team in the Salt Palace. Then they hit the road and played poorly enough to barely get by New Jersey and Charlotte, two teams that aren't terrorizing anyone these days.
Atlanta was another, thoroughly confusing matter. The Hawks have been been both pathetic and dangerous in the same year. In separate runs they have lost nine straight and now won six straight. Atlantans seem to have come to view them with mixed emotions. They're anxious to see them win, but skeptical when they do. One Atlanta columnist asked this week if maybe the city owes the team an apology; then he qualified the question by pointing out that Utah, Detroit and Boston were coming up.
Certainly, the Hawks, 12-11, are a strange collection by any standard. They have two of the league's oldest living relics in Moses Malone and Sidney Moncrief. They have the one of the league's smallest objects in guard Spud Webb. And, of course, they have one of the league's most acrobatic performers in the Human Highlight Film himself, Dominique Wilkins.
Whether all that variety had anything to do with the Jazz losing is doubtful. But from the first minutes, it was obvious the Jazz weren't going to win. Utah took a 4-2 lead, but eight minutes later was trailing 21-10. Webb took the first turn at the Jazz, scoring seven of the team's first 19 points.
Sensing this was going to be a long night, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan began shifting his lineup early, looking for a good combination. But none appeared.
Meanwhile, the Jazz's regular scorers were clanking along at memorably slow pace. Karl Malone missed five of his first seven shots. Thurl Bailey, who had a 1-for-8 night, was off on his first five tries. The Jazz ended the first quarter trailing by 15.
"We were in the doghouse with our game all night," said Sloan. "Usually you have a run somewhere, but we didn't. Once in a while a guy won't play well, but our whole team didn't look good."
The second period was more of the same. Kevin Willis, on his way to a 19-point night, had 10 by the half. Atlanta was moving inside for offensive rebounds - the Hawks had 16 for the game - without serious contention.
Even Moses Malone, who had probably tired of all the Jeff and Karl Malone stories coming down the Eastern Seaboard this week, got into the act. On one trip down the court he collected two offensive rebounds in a row, before dishing off to Doc Rivers for a layup.
Karl Malone provided a shot to fit the Jazz's mood early in the second quarter when he merely flipped the ball backwards over his head into the basket.
How else were they going to get their points?
Utah's only optimistic moments came as the half closed in, when the Jazz cut a 24-point lead down to 16. But Atlanta scored the first five of the second half and the Jazz never came closer than 17 points the rest of the way.
The Hawks' most emphatic play came on a lob pass from Webb to Wilkins for a monstrous dunk with 3:30 left in the quarter.
"I was anxious to see how we came out in the third quarter," said Sloan. "But we just did not have the kind of intesity that we've had."
Sloan wasn't alone in his expectations. "I thought they would maybe make a run in the third quarter," said Hawks guard John Battle. "But we were just too good tonight."
The fourth period, in which Atlanta's lead got up to 28 points, was nothing more than a sampling of bench material. Sloan tried every conceivable combination to find someone hot, but nobody answered the call.
"We didn't come to play - the whole team," said Jazz guard Jeff Malone, who was one of the few players to shoot well (8-13).
Wilkins led the Hawks with 20, followed by Willis and reserve John Battle with 19.
Karl Malone's 17 topped the Jazz (16-9), who move on to play at Orlando Saturday.
While Sloan credited Atlanta's defense for keeping the Jazz out of sync all night, he was hard pressed to remember a game in which his team played worse. "It's hard to figure out what happens on a night like that," he said.
Added the Hawks' Battle, "Any other night you're not going to blow out a Utah team with Karl Malone and guys like that."
GAME NOTES: The Hawks have won eight of nine games, their last loss coming on Dec. 7 . . . Atlanta has a 28-21 series led on the Jazz, including a 19-5 lead in The Omni . . . Karl Malone did much better last year against Atlanta, averaging 32 points . . . Utah is now 14-4 in its last 18 games.