The Washington Bullets, the hottest team in pro basketball, played the inevitable clinker tonight against the Los Angels Lakers.
With a revised lineup that included two new starters, the Lakers played only their second strong game in a dozen since Adrian Dantley was hurt and came away with a 127-115 victory before 11,158 at the Forum.
The Bullets missed center Wes Unseld, who has bruised rib cartilage and is not on the three-game trip that ends Saturday night in Portland. They also committed 14 first-half turnovers that helped put them 12 points in arrears at halftime, a margin tough to make up here when the Lakers at playing well.
Washington Coach Dick Motta was especially riled about what he called "three soft passes when we had layup" all leading to Laker points. L.A. used a 13-2 second-quarter surge to take control when the Bullets were nursing a 42-38 lead.
The loss, only Washington's third in its past 19 games, ended a clubrecord eight-game road winning streak and a five-game overall streak.
Since Dantley was injured, the Lakers had won only five of 11 games going into tonight's contest. So CoachJerry West decided to start Don Ford at forward in place of Kenny Carr, who was filling in for Dantley, and Lou Hudson at guard instead of Jimmy Price.
Ford, a starter most of last season but making his first start of this campaign, contributed 22 points, hurting the Bulletts with his outside shooting. Hudson scored 16. West had switched lineups, he said, in an effort to bolster his team's lineup.
Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also played strongly, with three blocked shots and 22 points, including 14 in the second-quarter surge that started the Lakers to their 15th win in 18 home games, best in the NBA.
Guard Norm Nixon had a nifty allaround game, with 22 points, 12 assists and seven steals.
But Washington star Elvin Hayes would gve the Lakers' little credit for the win.
It wasn't Kareem or anybody else," he sad after scoring 20 points, only three in the second half. "We had too many turnovers in the first half. We beat ourselves than they beat us, really."
Motta, however, praised Jabbar for playing like the former league MVP he once fas.
Jabbar's strong play also pointed to Washingtons problem, one of the few in the last month for the defending NBA champions. In addition to Unseld, backup center Mitch Kupchak also is ailing, hardly able to flex his right wrist, a result of a flareup of an old break that did not heal properly.
Kupchak managed only four rebounds and, at times, was shooting the ball left-handed. He still scored 15 points in 37 minutes, Motta, however, was not using the injury as an excuse for tonight's mediocre showing.
"it hurts us when we have to shart our bench," Motta said. "We don't have double pace."
By that, Motta meant starting Unseld on Jabbar with Unseld's style of leaning on the 7-foot-3 Laker center, then coming in with Kupchak, who gives Jabbar a different look.
The Washington bench, usually a force, was outplayed by their Los Angeles counterparts tonight. Only Larry Wright played decently and there was no Kupchak to come in.
Reserve forward-center Dave Robisch and Carr both played strongly as reserves, Robisch getting 15 points, two under his season high, and Carr, the De Matha High grad, getting 10 points and nine rebounds.
Washington trailed by as many as 21 points late in the third quarter. But the BULLETTS got a chance to redeem themselves when Jabbar picked up two quick fouls for the disqualification limit of six less than two minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers started playing as they had in the last dozen games and quickly the Bullets were within nine points, 108-99, with almost seven minutes to play.
But the Bullets could get no closer and the Lakers wrapped up the win when the Bulletts claimed they heard whistles and stopped playing as Jamaal Wilkes scored uncontestedly at the other end. Motta got a technical foul for complaining too much about the call, with four minutes to play.
"i'm not saying we would have won the game," Motta said, "But it took our last chance away. It was a four point play.