WASHINGTON - If the Harlem Globetrotters ever get tired of the road, the Jazz are their perfect replacements. What other bunch of unhappy travelers uses basketball so effectively to spread good cheer, magical performances and heroic finishes from coast to coast?
Only difference: The Globetrotters always win.
They trudge off the floor while the crowd goes crazy, with Monday's matinee, a punch-in-the-nose 114-111 loss to the Wizards, their fourth straight defeat, as just the latest example.
With the score tied, Gilbert Arenas dribbled away the time at the three-point arc, waited for the final 11 seconds to tick down to just a second or two, then launched a three-pointer that was so preordained in its execution and predictable in its success, it's practically a cliche on par with "Sweet Georgia Brown."
Certainly Arenas knew the drill; he made the exact same move just two weeks ago in beating Milwaukee.
The veteran guard released the ball, then turned away and walked up the court, beginning his victory celebration before the three-pointer over Deron Williams' outstretched fingers split the net as the horn sounded.
"I knew it was going in," confirmed Arenas, who strutted off the floor to chants of M-V-P, M-V-P. "I knew the game was over."
Everyone knew lots of stuff about that last shot, except how to stop it. "Every person in the arena knew he was going to shoot it," said Jazz forward Matt Harpring.
"I knew what was coming," confirmed Williams.
So what could have been done?
"I put a hand in his face. That's all I can do, unless I'm supposed to foul him," Williams said. "I looked up with four seconds, and he was still messing with the ball, so I tried to get up on him a little more. He made a little move, a step, and I backed up a little bit, That's when he raised up."
He had been raising up all night, continuing one other Jazz trend: Opposing guards scoring 50. Arenas' final shot, his seventh three-pointer of the day and the third in the final 2:09, gave him 51 points, allowing him to join Michael Redd (57 points), Kobe Bryant (52) and Ray Allen (54) in Utah's Hall of Can't-Guard-You-Either.
"He even looks at guys' feet when they drop their head down, [and] before they can pick their head up, he's shooting in their face or beating them off the dribble," Sloan marveled at his team's latest punisher. "He has tremendous quickness. I don't know too many guys in the league that have that kind of quickness, plus great range on his shot."
Sloan tried Derek Fisher, back in the starting lineup after back-to-back effort-challenged outings by Gordan Giricek; he tried Williams; he tried whoever that was wearing Andrei Kirilenko's jersey; he tried a zone defense. He tried everything he could think of to stop Arenas, as he did against Redd, Bryant and Allen, too.
The only matchup that seemed to work was Mehmet Okur. Yeah, the Jazz are officially out of ideas now.
Okur didn't guard Arenas, but he nearly outdueled him. The Turkish forward was spectacular in his long-range shooting, and his timing for nailing those wind-up-and-fire threes he specializes in. Okur finished with a career-high 38 points and made four three-pointers, three of them in the fourth quarter when he and Arenas seemed to stage their own private shootout.
"Memo really had it going," said Williams, who added 12 points and 13 assists. "You thought he'd make every one."
Compared to his teammates, he and Carlos Boozer practically did. Boozer had 27 points, 13 rebounds and only six missed shots in 18 tries, and he and Okur combined to go 25-for-40, or 62.5 percent. The other Jazz starters combined to make five of 21 shots, a 23.8 percent failure that prevented Utah from holding its 16-point first-half lead.
The Jazz fell apart in the third quarter, when the Wizards needed only eight minutes to catch Utah and surge into the lead. "We came out and forget all about running our offense, then got into foul trouble," Sloan said.
They fell behind by seven, 85-78 at one point, but came roaring back by feeding the ball to Boozer and Okur. But their efforts were doomed, Sloan pointed out, by their inability to prevent the Wizards from beating them to offensive rebounds, 14 for the game, which were invariably turned into critical points.
"One or two possessions turned this game around," Sloan said.
After Okur's last three put them ahead 109-106, Fisher jumped into Arenas as he shot a three of his own, giving the Wizards guard three free throws, and a tie game. The Jazz responded by freeing Okur for a 15-footer, but he tried a pass to Matt Harpring underneath the basket instead. When Harpring had no shot, he winged a pass to Williams at the three-point line. But his rushed shot was deflected and fell short.
Arenas drove the lane in hopes of giving Washington the lead. He missed, but Jarvis Hayes pulled the ball down and scored. At the other end, Boozer did the same when Fisher airballed a three-pointer, and his layup tied the score.
And set up Arenas' heroics.
"He's a superstar," said Washington forward Caron Butler. "When he's called upon, he puts on his cape and flies around the court and makes things happen."
Another satisfied customer for the Jazz's Traveling Euphoria Experience.