Perhaps Derek Harper and Rony Seikaly should talk to Eddie Johnson about Utah. It seems to bring out the best in him.
The well-traveled Houston Rockets forward, who holds the dubious distinction of being the only player in NBA history to score 18,000 or more career points and never play in an All-Star game, added to his legacy as a Jazz killer Monday night in the Delta Center.Fortunately for Utah, which won the game 100-93, the 38-year-old ran out of ammunition. Johnson scored 25 of his season-high 37 points in the first half as the short-handed Rockets garnered a lead they wouldn't surrender until the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
"Eddie was phenomenal," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "He stayed hot for a long, long period of time. We tried to get the ball to him as much as possible."
Playing without stars Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Willis and Mario Elie, who were each serving a one-game NBA suspension for their roles in a scuffle at Phoenix Saturday, things looked grim for the Rockets. And it didn't help that Utah opened the game with a 14-5 run.
Enter Johnson, who was among just four available reserves on the Houston bench. He replaced rookie Rodrick Rhodes with 8:02 left in the first quarter and remained on the floor until halftime. Johnson had 25 points at the intermission as the Rockets erased the deficit and pulled in front.
"Eddie played unbelievable," teammate Charles Barkley said. "He was just feeling it tonight. He played terrific."
Johnson, whose previous season-high was 24, topped it by the end of the second period. He made 8 of 10 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, and was perfect in five trips to the free-throw line.
"It was just one of those nights," said Johnson, whose team led 57-47 at the break. " . . . I get into a zone and I get it rolling, and that was tonight."
Johnson added 10 more points in the third quarter as the Rockets remained in front. His "night to let it flow" began to dry out in the final 12 minutes, however. He made just one shot in three attempts down the stretch as Utah rallied for the victory.
"I have the ultimate respect for that team," said Johnson, whose buzzer-beating 27-foot jumper lifted the Rockets past the Jazz in Game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference finals. "I know a lot of the guys over there, but I was mostly looking at the (Jazz) fans. They ride me pretty hard and I enjoy it."
No matter which of the six teams - Kings, Suns, Sonics, Hornets, Pacers or Rockets - he has played for in his 16-year NBA career, "Fast Eddie" always seemed to find his mark against the Jazz.
"They look at me as being the nemesis over the years," Johnson said. "I just have a nice little rivalry with them."
The next meeting will likely be in the postseason. Utah (44-16) and Houston (30-31) are among the eight teams in the Western Conference currently holding playoff spots.