- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

When the Washington Wizards played at Utah last season, Karl Malone went into his bully act, berating and goading the visitors much to the delight of the sometimes zealots that attend games at Delta Center.
The only problem with Malone's trash-talking, finger-pointing tirade, which drew a technical down the stretch, were his principal targets: scrawny Richard Hamilton, perhaps the frailest player in the league, and coach Doug Collins, then 51 and a few months away from a double hip replacement.
That Wizards team did not have a known NBA enforcer who could keep the Jazz's hulking, 260-pound power forward in check. Fortunately, this one does.
When Malone went into his act Thursday night in Washington's heated 105-102 victory over the Jazz at MCI Center, the Wizards responded by inserting 17-year veteran and renowned enforcer Charles Oakley. Malone, who has backed down from confrontations with players like Philadelphia's Derrick Coleman in the past, was relatively quiet the rest of the way.
With Oakley on the court for the first time since opening night in Toronto on Oct.30, Malone, who finished with a game-high 26 points and six rebounds, virtually vanished. He scored three points in the final 8:48, most of it with Oakley on the court.
To a suggestion that the Wizards (5-4) are much tougher this season, Collins replied, "No question, and that's not a knock at the guys here last season. But what this team has is more of a toughness there's no question about that."
That toughness probably begins with Oakley, a strong locker room presence for years. He believes that not backing down, especially in your own building, brings results on the scoreboard.
"When you establish that you're not going to get pushed around, it's like putting three or four points on the board," Oakley said. "For the big guys, our job is to shut it down on defense and play tough. We've got guys who can score in [Michael Jordan] and [Jerry Stackhouse]. Playing hard means making sure that we control the paint. If you do that, you've got a chance to win every night."
Oakley, 38, maintains that toughness with an arduous workout regimen, even when he is not playing. He lifts weights with Jordan and the members of Jordan's "Breakfast Club" before practice begins. He gets in another workout following practice, and on off days he works out at night.
"Oak is physically our toughest big guy," Collins flatly stated. "[Thursday] night when you looked out on the floor, what was one of the things you noticed about the guys I had on the floor down the stretch? They all were tough. Stack is tough, Mike is tough, Ty Lue is tough, Bryon and Oak. Tough. You have to have tough guys in those kinds of skirmishes. Utah was stating to knock us around in those kind of situations, and you have to have toughness where you will stand your ground."
Lue, generously listed at 6 feet, noticed right away the disappearance of Malone's bravado when Oakley entered the game.
"He went right at Malone, and I think Malone kind of backed down," said Lue, who relishes the trash talk of today's NBA. "He was on the offensive boards, he was talking stuff. He and MJ got called for a double tech, but when Oak checked into the game that kind of stopped. It's good to know that when you come out on the court, you are going to have guys that are going to go to war with you. If we had to fight we would have fought."
Notes The Wizards will hold their annual canned food drive today at MCI Center. Each fan who donates a non-perishable food item at tonight's game against Miami will receive a coupon for a ticket to a Wizards game.

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