- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz, needing a victory over the Washington Wizards in the worst way, held off a late rally by the Wizards for an 85-77 victory last night at Delta Center.

The win, keyed by 19 points by forward Andrei Kirilenko and a career-high 19 from reserve guard Raja Bell, gave the Jazz (37-34) sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Larry Hughes, playing just his second game after missing 19 with a fractured wrist, led the Wizards (22-48) with a game-high 23 points. Steve Blake, filling in for injured Gilbert Arenas, added 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.

The loss left the Wizards winless on the road this season (0-6) against Midwest Division teams. They have one last shot at winning when they play at Minnesota next month.

The Wizards (6-27) have the fewest road victories of any team in the NBA.

Once again, the shortcomings that have haunted the Wizards all season long were there for most of the 48 minutes. They turned the ball over 24 times, and were horrible from the field, making just 35.4 percent against a Utah team that blocked 10 shots, seven by Kirilenko.

Washington also had very little success from the free-throw line, making just 11 of 19 compared with Utah’s 24 of 41.

“Turnovers and free throws,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said, citing the reasons for the latest loss. “If you can’t make shots and they get long rebounds and we keep turning it over, that makes them even better. A lot of that was us not being able to make a play. When you don’t have good spacing, you are going to turn the ball over a lot.”

Much of that was because of a zone defense the Jazz applied with Kirilenko in the back, swatting away shots. His presence played a big part in the ineffective play by Washington’s frontcourt. Starting forwards Jared Jeffries and Kwame Brown combined with starting center Brendan Haywood for just seven points and 10 rebounds.

“That was a very difficult game for the post players,” said Brown, who was scoreless with two rebounds in 29 minutes. “We had problems with getting the ball down there. When we did, Kirilenko disrupted what we were trying to do. He disrupted a few things tonight, including the guards with his off-the-ball defense. Every time you made a move, if he didn’t block it he adjusted it.”

Down by 18 points early in the third quarter, Washington, with Mitchell Butler leading the way, outscored the Jazz 22-5, closing the gap to 63-62.

Utah struggled in the third, when it made just five of 18 and scored only 13 points. After taking a 58-40 lead at the 10:46 mark, Utah went almost six minutes between field goals, not getting another until Kirilenko scored with 5:06 left in the quarter.

Up 65-62 at the start of the fourth quarter, Utah again put its lead in double digits, 72-62, but once again the Wizards fought their way back into it, pulling within 74-71 after a basket by Etan Thomas.

But Kirilenko helped seal the Wizards’ fate when he stepped outside to nail a 3-pointer, boosting the Jazz lead to 77-71. Gordon Giricek pushed the lead to 79-71 when he sliced in for a layup with 3:22 to play.

Washington cut the lead to 83-76 on a pair of free throws by Hughes, but Utah reserve center Greg Ostertag’s only basket of the night gave the Jazz a nine-point lead with under a minute to play.

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