- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

The Wizards survived a 21-point lead and the Jazz in Tony Cheng's neighborhood last night.

The excitement was unnecessary, and not appreciated by the crowd.

The Wizards led by 21 points midway through the second quarter, only to have trouble around prosperity again.

A big lead. A blown lead. The two extremes are becoming a habit with the Wizards.

Nothing is easy with the Wizards, not even when it is easy, not even when the opposition is down and almost out.

The Jazz closed the deficit to eight points by halftime and to three points after three quarters before pushing ahead early in the fourth quarter.

Greg Ostertag missed a 1-footer by five feet early in the second quarter. He then hit the bottom of the rim on a layup attempt and was charged with a player-control foul.

That is one side of the Jazz, John Stockton and Karl Malone the other side.

The two initiated the surge, of course.

An old Washington face, Calbert Cheaney, was in the Jazz's starting lineup, which tells you all you need to know about the team's complementary parts.

An outbreak of sloppiness by both teams complemented the old-timers' theme.

A shot of Geritol, anyone?

They might have waved support hose in honor of the aging principals: Stockton, 40, Malone 39, Michael Jordan, 39, Charles Oakley, 38, and Mark Jackson, 37. That comes out to five of the nine oldest players in the NBA, Stockton the oldest. Patrick Ewing, in a suit, must have felt left out around so many of his contemporaries after opening himself to a 10-day contract in September.

The Wizards lost both games to the Jazz last season, the difference between the teams both small and large. The Jazz made the playoffs with 44 victories last season, seven more than the home-bound Wizards. No such slip by the Wizards is permissible this season. They have to win these games at home if they mean what they say.

The Jazzmen are hardly what they used to be. They are not even expected to be one of the eight playoff teams from the Western Conference this season. If not, it would be the franchise's first postseason absence since 1983 and the first with Stockton and Malone.

Stockton is on a year-to-year watch, and probably out of years. Malone is in the final year of a four-year contract, and in the throes of what to do and where to go, if it comes to that. Malone implied in the preseason that this could be his last go-around. He also might have been wrestling with his 39 years out loud or making a preliminary appeal to owner Larry Miller to think ahead. Malone has one last hurdle in reach, if it matters to him, the career scoring mark held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 38,387 points. Malone needs two solid seasons, this one and next, to be in Abdul-Jabbar's neighborhood.

Miller, the owner, has not been in a hurry to push Stockton and Malone out the door, mostly because they remain the team's two best players and the alternative is too grim to contemplate. Jerry Krause, to name one convenient executive who was in a hurry to rebuild, is up to his third or fourth rebuilding job since the Jazz and Bulls met in the second of their NBA Finals appearances in 1998. Worse for Miller, the average multimillionaire star in the NBA is not tempted to join the laid-back, lily-white lifestyle of Salt Lake City.

Stockton and Malone are certain to check out of the NBA as the accidental Hall of Famers, and a source of befuddlement to those who require a championship ring next to the best of the best. It goes with the territory. Stockton and Malone broke a number of rules, this one as well.

The prospect of change tugs at the Jazz, the prospect more pronounced in the vicinity of Bryon Russell in the opposition's uniform. Russell spent nine seasons with the Jazz and in a single moment came to encapsulate the championship frustrations of the franchise.

Russell was the victim of the push-off maneuver by Michael Jordan, just before the perfect finish to a series, season and career. Russell claims to be a victim of the Jazz's fiscal practices as well.

Jordan and Russell. Stockton and Malone.

The sight was both nostalgic and incongruent.

It was back to the future night on Fun Street.

It also was a tiny telltale night for the home team.

A step was necessary, the step completed.

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