WASHINGTON (AP)—After taking a 22-point lead late in the third quarter, the Utah Jazz weren’t expecting to sweat out a close finish in their quest to get back above .500.
Yet the lead was down to six in the final 2 minutes, and they were being pressured in the backcourt. Matt Harpring made a nice catch to save a timeline violation, and Deron Williams hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired with 1:17 remaining, a vital possession in Monday night’s 97-89 victory over the Washington Wizards.
“That was pretty big for us,” coach Jerry Sloan said. “It took away their momentum.”
Mehmet Okur had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Andrei Kirilenko added 17 points for the Jazz (18-17), who won their seventh in eight games and have a winning record for the first time in nearly two months, when they were 4-3 following a Nov. 12 win over Chicago.
Utah won the usual Sloan way, with balanced scoring and patient teamwork that resulted in 28 assists on 37 field goals. The Jazz, who won at Detroit in overtime on Saturday, had assists on nine of their first 11 baskets and began to pull away with a 14-2 run starting late in the first quarter, then held off a too-little, too-late Wizards rally in the fourth.
“We are playing as a team and executing very good,” Kirilenko said. “We just executed so well. In the fourth quarter we kind of lost our concentration.”
Antawn Jamison scored a season-high 30 points to lead the Wizards, who have lost four of five and again were booed off the court, this time after Gilbert Arenas missed a layup that left them trailing 47-33 at halftime. Washington is 1-3 with one to go in a set of five games coach Eddie Jordan had targeted to turn around the season, with the only victory coming by one point Saturday over struggling Boston.
With the five-game package unraveling, Jordan spun it anew by turning it into a 10-game set.
“If we go into the next game and come out with a win, 5-5 isn’t too bad over the last 10,” Jordan said.
Jordan even resorted to a youth movement, giving rookies Donell Taylor and Andray Blatche extended minutes because the veteran lineup wasn’t producing. He sat his best player, Arenas, for much of the third quarter after Arenas committed three quick fouls on top of an already woeful shooting night.
“I admire his competitiveness,” Jordan said. “As much as I admire it, I thought that he was trying too hard.”
“Right now, we’re disjointed,” center Brendan Haywood said. “We’re not a team. I think everybody likes each other, everybody’s out there playing hard, but we’re not always playing hard and smart.”
Wizards guard Chucky Atkins missed the game, to be in Orlando, Fla., with his wife, Monica, who is expecting a baby boy, the couple’s third child. … The Wizards’ struggles have raised questions over Jordan’s status, even though president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfield told reporters on Sunday that the coach’s job not in jeopardy. Asked if was surprised by the speculation, Jordan said: “No, I am not surprised. It’s the NBA. You have a year like we are … to this point, and you don’t play very good defense, certainly there is going to be talk about job security or insecurity. I am not surprised about anything. I don’t know if it’s the dreaded vote of confidence. You take a man’s word for a man’s word.” … Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch made an appearance in the Jazz locker room, capping a long day in which he took part in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.