The Bullets forgot their injury problems long enough last night to remember what won them an NBA title last June. They pounded away at Seattle with their inside game until the SuperSonics collapsed under the weight of the assault, 132-110.
A sellout crowd of 19,035 at Capital Centre was able to relax from late in the third quarter. By then, the Bullets had turned the game into a laugher making up for Thursday's embarrassing home loss to Houston.
This was Washington's front court at its best. Elvin Hayes, hitting both inside and out, scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds. Bob Dandridge was 10 of 14 shooting and tallied 26 points. And Wes Unseld complemented his 17 points (six of six from the floor) with seven assists and 13 rebounds.
These three veterans had to play well. The Bullet guards were missing Kevin Grevey, out again with a hamstring pull, and his replacement Charles Johnson, had a bad shooting night (four for 14). But flu-ridden Tom Henderson was well enough to get the ball inside for seven assists and scored 16 points.
Normally when the Bullet shooting guards are not effective, the club struggles. That pattern changed last night because Washington moved the ball and ran its offense so efficiently that the front court got the majority of the shots.
Hayes, Dandridge and Unself were so strong that the Sonic big men were in early foul trouble.
That forced Coach Lenny Wilkens to a makeshift lineup that included both 11th man Joe Hassett at guard and veteran Dick Snyder, also a guard, at forward.
But it is doubtful Seattle could have stuck with Washington even in more ideal circumstances because the Bullets shot too well (53 percent) and played too intelligently.
"We were smart and we played with enthusiasm," Coach Dick Motta said."It was just the opposite of how we played against Houston. There was zip out there tonight."
Hayes zipped into one of his uncanny shooting streaks when even the off-balance, falling-away, one-handed attempts fall in.
Dandridge was less spectacular. He merely spent most of the contest driving the middle and putting in his characteristic one-hand running shots, which few players in the league try anymore.
But Unseld's fine game was just what was needed to finish off the SuperSonics, making them losers to the Bullets twice in less than a week.
Seattle tried to regain its composure in the third quarter and get into contention, but Unseld turned back the rally with five straight points. Those ignited a 12-2 Bullet surge to end the period and give Washington an insurmountable 99-77 margin.
The SuperSonics never led after dropping behind, 37-21, in the first quarter. Washington rarely has played better than during those opening 12 minutes.
The Bullets made 13 of their initial 18 shots, ran their fast break with precision and stopped Sonic forwards John Johnson and Lonnie Shelton from any close-in scoring.
Hayes and Dandridge combined for 23 points in the quarter and both Shelton and Johnson accumulated three fouls trying to stop them.
But Seattle refused to let the Bullets run away and hide quite so soon. The Sonics strung together eight points at the end of the period to close to 37-29, then nipped away during the second quarter until they drew as close as four points.
A basket by Henderson, an Unseld layup off a Henderson feed and field goals by Greg Ballard and Larry Wright, again set up by Henderson, stopped that Seattle threat and the Bullets led by nine at the half.
An 8-2 burst at the beginning of the third opened up more breathing room, but once again Seattle chipped away. Finally, Unself got untracked and locked up Washington's 40th victory of the season.
"Once the third quarter was over, I didn't worry about the game," Motta said. "It's tough for anyone to overcome a 22-point lead, especially the way we were playing tonight.
"We respect them and I think the feeling is mutual.I told Lenny I hope we play them in the finals again."
If the clubs do meet in the championship round, the Sonics will have to concentrate on keeping out of foul trouble. On Sunday, when Washington won in Seattle, center Jack Sikma was hindered with fouls and thus was no factor. Last night, Sikma avoided that problem, only to see Johnson, Shelton and reserve Paul Silas hindered by referee whistles.
It was a loosely called game, which customarily benefits the Bullets.But Washington, when it plays well, usually gets opponents in free-throw difficulties because of its inside power game.
Seattle has to offset this strength with its guard play, but the Sonic backcourt was not effective last night. Dennis Johnson played only 22 minutes because of fouls and Fred Brown was only five of 14 from the field.
Henderson, who missed the Houston game with flu, wasn't expected to play much a night later. But he was surprisingly fit and his floor leadership never allowed the Bullets to fall out of their game plan.
"I know I really get up for Seattle," he said."We wanted to win this one, it's good to beat them.
"And when you have a crowd like we had, you want to give them a show. I think that's just what we did."