The only thing more dangerous than catching Karl Malone's elbow in the face is catching the Mailman on the rebound.
One night after the Jazz suffered a discouraging loss to Minnesota, Malone lit up the Bucks for 40 points in Utah's 111-100 win over Milwaukee Saturday night.
Malone, who had just 19 points against Kevin Garnett on Friday, embarrassed a long line of Bucks defenders who had no chance to keep up with the reigning MVP. By game's end, Malone was wearing the smirk that accompanies his best shooting games and trading verbal jabs with the Milwaukee crowd.
"Some nights you've just got it going on," Malone said. "It's a nice win, considering we still aren't playing the Jazz basketball we want to play yet."
He had just four points in the first quarter but quickly picked up speed, scoring 12, 13 and 11 in the final three quarters to go with eight rebounds. J.R. Reid, Danny Manning, Tim Thomas and Ervin Johnson all failed to slow down the Mailman, who hit his trademark variety of outside jumpers and leaning drives.
"He came in and dissected our defense," said Ray Allen, who led Milwaukee with 23 points. "He made a lot of shots that we had absolutely no answer for."
Malone got plenty of help from Bryon Russell, who had 19 points off the bench, and John Stockton, who had 18 points and 12 assists.
"It was day and night compared to the game in Minnesota," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We had our concentration from the beginning of the game, and Karl had a sensational game. When he's hitting like that, he's about the best that's every played the game."
The game was a rebound for the Jazz but a letdown for the Bucks, who beat the defending champion Spurs 99-88 on Thursday night. The loss was Milwaukee's first at the Bradley Center this season after four wins.
Of the Bucks' big three offensive performers, only Allen played well. Sam Cassell had nine assists but had his second straight horrible shooting night (4-of-13), while Glenn Robinson scored 18 points, but didn't look for the ball down the stretch.
The loss knocked Milwaukee (6-4) out of the Central Division lead and left Charlotte as the only Eastern Conference team without a home loss. Utah (6-4) avoided falling to .500 by getting just its second road win of the year.
For all their offensive prowess, the Bucks showed they won't be able to compete with the league's elite teams unless their defensive effort improves. Utah shot 55 percent and outrebounded Milwaukee 39-34, while forcing 15 turnovers by a Bucks squad that commits fewer turnovers than any team.
"I know it takes time to build a defensive focus, (but) we just didn't come out with much defensive fight," coach George Karl said. "I'm getting tired of giving up 110 points."
The Jazz exploited Milwaukee's weaknesses with razor-sharp execution, looking more like the team that went to consecutive NBA Finals and less like last season's team that stumbled in the second round of the playoffs.
Up 53-43 at halftime, the Jazz scored on their first seven possessions of the second half and led by 19 midway through the third quarter.
The Bucks closed within 99-88 with 5:03 to play, but Malone converted a three-point play and the Bucks then failed to score on six straight possessions, taking a number of ill-advised shots. Reid's jumper with 23 seconds to play pulled Milwaukee within 10 points for the first time since early in the third quarter.
Thomas had a season-high 17 points for the Bucks. Milwaukee leads the league in free-throw percentage but was just 21-of-28 Saturday night.
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