The Bullets snapped their two-year jinx against the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday by turning Kareem Abdul-Jabbar into a one-dimensional player.
They conceded 31 points to the Laker center but limited him to five rebounds and cut off his inside passing. The result was a 119-112 victory in Capital Centre that ended a six-game losing streak against Los Angeles.
Abdul-Jabbar missed eight of 12 shots in the first half as the Lakers took a 62-53 lead, but Bullet coach Dick Motta felt he was hurting the Bullets with his passing.
So the Bullets altered their strategy and stopped double teaming Abdul-Jabbar. Instead, they concentrated on rebounding and playing more efficient man-to-man defense while making Abdul-Jabbar work hard for his points.
Abdul-Jabbar scored 22 points in the second half but didn't get a rebound in the fourth quarter. And the rest of the Lakers were not up to handling the Bullets on the backboards. Washington wound up with a whopping 58-26 edge in rebounds, which Laker coach Jerry West said was an embarrassment.
With Abdul-Jabbar firing 15 shots after intermission, his teammates, especially Adrian Dantley, didn't get the ball much. Dantley had only four shots in the final 24 minutes and wound up adding just three points to his 19-point first half.
"They only have enough shots for a couple of guys at the most," said Motta. "If they go to Jabbar, that doesn't leave much for everyone else. We wanted to work him and get him tired so it would bother him in the final minutes. They just forgot that Dantley was out there."
Although Abdul-Jabbar didn't look tired at the end, the Lakers' offensive continuity had disappeared by then and they had nowhere to turn to catch up to the charging Bullets.
Washington also was able to capitalize for a change, on the Lakers' sagging defense. The Bullets either rushed the ball downcourt and got off shots before Abdul-Jabbar got into the defense or they fired from the perimeter.
"If they are clogging the middle, and two-timing with Jabbar and letting Wes (Unseld) roam, you have to shoot over them," said Motta. "The whole theory of offense is to get people in one-on-one situations. If we do that, then an NBA player should be able to score."
The Bullets' scoring reflected the success of this philosophy. While Bob Dandridge (29 points) and Elvin Hayes (18 points. 19 rebounds) had their usual impressive games, Washington also got 58 points from four guards, who shot mainly from the outside or scored on fast breaks.
Kevin Grevey and Tom Henderson helped keep the Bullets within reach in the first half with 22 points. When Grevey didn't add to his 13 points after intermission, Larry Wright and Chrles Johnson took over and contributed 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Wright, the little jitterbug who loves to quicken the pace of a game, was an especially significant factor in helping the Bullets take control.
When the Bullets rallied from an 80-70 deficit to an 88-85 advantage at the end of three quarters, Wright had six points and an assist and set off Washington's fast break by racing the ball upcourt at every opportunity.
Then, when Washington broke from a 93-all tie to a 106-97 lead it never fully surrendered. Wright turned on the crowd of 17,779 with a driving layup past the Lakers' Norm Nixon after taking a long pass from Greg Ballard.
"I went into the game looking for my shots," said Wright. "With Jabbar on the other team, you can't afford to have the game too close at the end or he can beat you by himself."
Johnson and Joe Pace finished off what Wright began. Johnson, who is quickly fitting into the Bullets' offense after joining the club Tuesday, popped in a 15-footer and Pace got inside Abdul-Jabbar on a fast break and dunked the ball.
The Lakers called time but that didn't help Abdul-Jabbar stop Pace, who beat the Laker center on a drive down the middle that ended in another dunk. Two foul shots by Hayes moments later forced the Lakers into a scrambling, catch up defense that got them no closer than four points the rest of the quarter.
"With Tommy (Henderson) and Charles Johnson, we have been able to settle down a little since our injuries," said Dandridge. "We are much more relaxed and there isn't that sense of panic that there was at first."
The Bullets picked an appropriate time to settle down, considering they now start a two-week, seven-game road trip that includes a showdown tomorrow with Central Division leader San Antonio.
"Things aren't perfect, but they are better for us than a week ago," said Motta. "I feel we are competitive again and that is all you can hope for."
Injured Bullet guard Phil Chenier will remain in traction in Sibley Hospital for a couple more days, according to team physician Stanford Lavine. Once Chenier, who has been in the hospital for 10 days, is released, he will begin rehabilitation by swimming daily. Chenier is not expected to play again until mid-February.