With top guns Paul Westphal and Walter Davis shooting mostly blanks, the Phoenix Suns were reduced to matching physical strength with the Bullets last night. It was like Tiny Archibald trying to arm-wrestle Bob Lanier.
Washington's musclemen tossed around the basketball and any Suns who happened to get in the way en route to their third straight victory over Phoenix this NBA season, 104-94.
The Suns are rumored to be trying to obtain Tuck Robinson from New Orleans and the crowd of 14,929 at Capital Centre got a fine example of why they need a burly rebounder of Robinson's class.
With Elvin Hayes grabbing a season-high 26 rebounds, the Bullets refused to let 39 percent Washington shooting cause them to lose, Instead, with Philadelphia's loss at Indinana, they took a 1 1/2-game lead in the Atlantic Division.
Washington's final advantage on the boards, 60-47, is misleading.The Bullets' domination was even greater, as Hayes, Wes Unseld and Mitch Kupchak seemed like trees planted sround the basket during most of the second half.
The only way Phoenix had a chance to cut through the forest was through good shooting and the usual scoring production from deadeyes Westphal and Davis, who average almost 50 points a game.
Last night, however, Davis was defensed better by the referees than the Bullets and spent much of the game on the Bench in foul trouble. He finished with only 15 points, just four in the second half. Nd Westphal missed five straight attempts during one span after intermission and settled for eight points in that half and 16 for the game.
The rest of the Suns were 28 of 70 from the field, hardly an accurate enough display to offset Washington's relentless assault on the backboards.
The Bullets got a superb second half from Bobby Dandridge, Devin Grevey and Kupchak. The three combined for 43 of Washington's 61 points in the last two period, Kupchak tossing in 25 for the game, and Grevey and Dandride 22 each. Hayes wound up with 21 besides his 11 offensive rebounds, three less than the entire Phoenix club.
"When you have a slow team and all they to is grab you, then that's not basketball," complained Phoenix assistant Al Bianchi afterward. "Why punish a fast team" They are already good, they were the champions."
Washington did benefit nicely from the foul line, making 26 of 40 attempts, to 10 of 17 by Phoenix. But the only way the Suns can try to stay with the Bullets inside is to get more physical, a tactic the officials last night wouldn't allow.
"It's not fair," said Davis, who displayed rare outward emotion during the game over sone of the calls. "The only way to stop Phoenix is to hold and stand us up when we cut through. They were doing it and the refs weren't calling it."
Phoenix, however, had an opportunity to race into command in the first half and avoid the rebounding confrontation. The Bullets shot only 30 percent in the opening 24 minutes and contributed 13 points to the Suns' 49-43 intermission lead through turnovers.
But the visitors were erratic enough to keep Washington within range entering the missed eight of his first nine shots, the Bullets drew even within six minutes and broke in front on two straight Grevey fast-break layups, both set up by Dandridge passes.
A 6-0 spurt near the end of the period increasedthe lead to 10 points and the margin grew to 17 late in the game before the reserves took over.
cWe just started playing good basketball in the third," said Dandridge, who had 15 in the quarter, four more than Grevey. "We got back to our offense and we started running better. With Wes and Elvin dominating inside, we could take off and get some easy baskets."
The faster pace in that quarter resulted in 48 percent Washington shooting. And the Bullets began following the Suns' example by relying more on good passing, instead of one-on-one play, to mold the lead. *tThis teamwork was best examplified on one basket in the fourth quarter. The ball was knocked from Westphal's hands and Kupchak got possession by diving to the floor. He flipped a pass to Hayes, then took off to the other end where Hayes returned the ball. Kupchak falked a jumper, spotted Greg Ballard underneath and found him with a perfect strike for an easy layup that brought the crowd to its feet.
Washington also was aided by some questionable substituting from Phoenix Coach John MacLeod, who was ejected in the game's final minutes. During the middle stages of the third period, when the Bullets were taking control of thins, he eledcted to go with mostly substitutes while Westphal was on the bench. The Phoenix reserves were hardly a match for Hayes and company.
"We got away with a bad half," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "When Dandridge is one for nine, we are in trouble. But you don't expect him or this team to turn in two bad halves in a row and they didn't."
The Bullets travel to Atlanta for a 7:30 game tonight against the Hawks, a club that bumps and grinds much more than Phoenix.