No matter how lethargic his teammates might be, nothing seems to dampen Larry Wright's effervescent spirit. That enthusiasm prevented the Bullets from suffering a loss yesterday that would have haunted them the rest of the season.
Golden State showed up at Capital Centre without two injured centers and its best guard. Yet, until Wright ignited Washington's running game in the fourth period, the Warriors were on the verge of heating the Bullets for the third time this year
Instead, a fine crowd of 15,868 would up being treated to a 99-89 triumph that also included a 31-point, 11-rebound performance by Bullet forward Elvin Hayes.
"It wasn't pretty but there is something about these Sunday afternoon games," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta, whose team retained its six-game lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. "There was no lift, no spirit to our bodies until the fourth perios."
Motta's best coaching move of the day was to go with Wright as the final period began. The young guard, who specializes in solo length-of-the-court fast breaks, pushed the ball down the floor on every possession and turned a turtle-paced contest into a helter-skelter affair.
With playmaker John Lucas on the bench getting a brief rest, the Warriors had no one to settle them down. They got caught up in the arace, quickly committed several turnovers and the Bullets were able to grab control of the contest.
Golden State, which had led from the start of the second half, allowed consecutive fast-break layups by Charles Johnson, then saw Wes Unseld toss in two baskets to give Washington an 83-78 lead.
Lucas was rushed back in, but Greg Ballard's layup off a Wright pass and Wright's drive down the middle on a three-on-one break put the game out of reach.
Wright's last field goal illustrated his value to his team. With the Warriors concentrating on the wing men on the break, Wright took off from the foul line and flew to the hoop, releasing the ball almost at rim level.
It was the sort of scoring play that gets a crowd excited and, as Wright put it, "gets some of my teammates running with me. I always want to push it up but I need help. It finally came in the fourth."
Golden State's ranks were so thin that any time center Clifford Ray came out of the game, Coach Al Attles had to play forward Purvis Short at center. His other centers, Robert Parrish (muscle pull) and Wayne Cooper (ankle), did not dress. The Warriors' leading scorer, Phil Smith, is out for the season with an Achilles' tenden tear.
But only Hayes could take advantage of the resulting mismatches -- he was guarded mostly bythe 2 1/2-inches-shorter 6-foot-7 Tom Abernathy -- during the first 36 minutes. Hayes now has averaged 28 points the last five games.
Golden State slowed the pace to a walk and was helped out when Bob Dandridge got into early foul trouble. The Bullet forward scored all six of his points in the first period, then spent most of the rest of the game on the bench.
"We played their game," said Motta. "They were a wounded tiger and they were ready to do a good job. Bobby never had a chance to get into his game and it took us a while to adjust to him not being there."
Motta was confident that the Bullet depth eventually would wear on Golden State. He was right, although the Warriors held up probably longer than anyone in the Centre thought.
"They throw so many people at you," said Attles. "I can't really get overly upset with losing. We were playing probably the best team in basketball and we played well. But we turned the ball over and that really hurt us."
The Warriors committed seven of their 25 turnovers in the last 12 minutes. They also lost control of the boards after having outrebounded Washington in the first three quarters. The result was horrible 26 percent shooting and their 35th loss of the season.
"We gave it away as usual," said Ray. "Experience got to us. You give me five young guys or five veterans and, when it comes to the fourth quarter, I'll take the five veterans. And we've got young,new guys."
Motta was able to play Mitch Kupchak for 10 minutes. It was Kupchak's first game in two weeks and only his second in 11 contests since being sidelined by an inflamed Achilles' tendon.
Kupchak. activated off the injured list two minutes before tip-off, said his injury "felt better than I expected. I cut away the back of my (basketball) shoe and that relieved pressure. I really didn't know if I should play or not but I finally decided to go ahead.
"I think everything is downhill from now on. If I had hurt it again today, I don't know what would have happened. But this helps."
To make room for him on the roster, Roger Phegley, who has acute gastroenteritis, was placed on the injured list.