It's bargaining time for the Jazz's Jeff Malone. Four tickets here, two there. A swap with a teammate for when they play Phoenix or

New York. The Jazz guard is back home, where he spent seven years playing for the Washington Bullets. Finding seats for everyone who wants to see his return to the the capital city isn't going to be easy.Prior to last summer, Malone's home was in Washington, where he averaged a career 20.2 points and twice earned All-Star recognition. This is Malone's first and only regular-season trip to Washington this year, and his chance to show the Bullets what their summertime trading has wrought. The Jazz and Bullets meet in the Capital Centre, Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. (MST). The game will be aired on Fox Channel 13.

"It's not personal," he says. "I just want to win and everybody wants to win so we can keep up our lead."

Although Malone has no outward misgivings about the three-way trade last summer that sent him to Utah, he has to wonder. It was called one of the biggest giveaways of the year. Malone was obtained from Washington via Sacramento in a deal that sent Bobby Hansen and Eric Leckner to the Kings and Sacramento's Pervis Ellison to Washington. Any way you figure it, the Jazz got the best of the deal.

Until Monday night in Orlando, when he returned to the lineup and scored 20 points, it wasn't entirely certain Malone would even be making an appearance at Washington. He had missed his five previous games and 12 of 15 due to injuries. All totaled for the year, Malone has missed 13 games: one with a sore elbow, seven with a groin pull and five with a lower back strain. In one season he has missed exactly half the number missed in the previous seven years.

"It's frustrating to miss those many games. The injuries were almost back-to-back," says Malone, adding that he is still bothered somewhat by both the groin and back injuries. "They have been nagging-type injuries, things you can't do a whole lot for. You've just got to be patient and wait it out."

Surprisingly, the Jazz have thrived even without their shooting guard, going 9-4 in games he has missed. Teammates have taken to teasing that they no longer need him in the lineup. "If Jeff would have come back and we had lost (against Orlando), I would have been all over his case," jokes Karl Malone.

The return of Jeff Malone to the lineup is hardly the biggest return story going in Washington, though. That belongs to 34-year-old Bullets' star Bernard King, who's papier-mache legs have held up well enough to make him an All-Star in the twilight of his career. Going into this week, King ranked second in the NBA in scoring, with a 29.4 average.

However, King's scoring hasn't done much for the Bullets' record, who are grinding along with a 22-36 mark. They have lost nine of the last 10 and six in a row.

"It's going to be great coming back. I have a lot of friends here and it will be great to see all the guys," says Malone. "But when you say coming back home, well, home is in Utah. I'm not going to be going home until next Monday night."

PREGAME NOTES: Karl Malone has scored 30 or more points in five of six games and led the Jazz in scoring 16 straight times . . . Mark Eaton has collected 26 rebounds in his last two games . . . John Stockton is going for his fourth consecutive 1,000-assist season. He has 817 with 25 games remaining.