If Kansas City guards Phil Ford and Ottis Birdsong could play against the Washington Bullets every night, they'd already be dusting off a spot for them in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
For the third time this season, Ford and Birdsong gave all-world performance against the Bullets, combining for 53 points, including 35 in the second half, to lead the Kings to a 121-116 triumph. Ford finished with 29 points and 15 assists and Birdsong added 24 points.
It was the Kings' third victory over Washington this season, but this was the sweetest of them all because they were without injured forward Scott Wedman. The only good news for the Bullets was that this was the last time they have to play K.C. during the regular season.
Bullet Coach Dick Motta, who got 38 points from Bob Dandridge, had hoped to control the guards with improved defense and better scoring output from his own back court which he thought would keep Birdsong and Ford busy at both ends.
For the first half, he was satisfied on both counts. The Bullets picked up Ford at half court and cut down his fast break opportunities while Larry Wright was scoring 14 points to offset the combined 15 points from the two Kings before halftime.
But playmaker Tom Henderson was lost in the first quarter with an ankle sprain and by early in the third quarter, Henderson's absence and the overpowering talents of Ford and Birdsong caught up to Washington.
"Without Tommy, Larry played more minutes than normal and he got tired," Motta said of Wright, who scored only five second-half points. "We just couldn't stop those two guards. They seemed to penetrate and shoot anytime they wanted. It's definitely a problem for us."
Kansas City stayed ahead during much of the early going behind the scoring of center Sam Lacey and forward Bill Robinzine. But in the second half, Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons turned to his leader, Ford, to break the Kings' five-game losing streak.
Ford responded with 19 points and nine assists after intermission. He and Birdsong combined for 14 of the club's final 17 points and 16 of its 29 fourth-quarter total.
The Bullets had things tied at 108 before losing control. In the next four minutes, Birdsong tossed in four points, Ford seven and forward Bob Nash two to hand Washington its second defeat on this three-game trip.
Motta's players hurt themselves with some poor shot selection down the stretch. Dandridge, working against Nash, Gus Gerard and Darnell Hillman instead of Wedman, scored 32 points entering those final four minutes, but he didn't touch the ball again until after the Kings had a 116-110 bulge. Nor did Elvin Hayes, who had 22, get a pass.
Instead, Kevin Grevey missed two bombs and Wright a perimeter jumper and Kansas City responded with two baskets and four free throws. Dandridge finally got open against Nash for an eight-footer and wound up with Washington's last six points, but they were too late to be effective.
"We didn't get the ball inside at the end like I wanted," Motta said. "We took some poor shots, and that didn't help. When Bobby is playing like he was, he should get the ball. I want him to."
Dandridge, who made 15 of 25 attempts and had 25 points in the second half, said the team was still trying to "adjust to having Grevey back (from a hamstring pull). He has to learn to adjust to what we were doing to win while he was out. He took some shots that we didn't need."
Grevey made four of 11 attempts, but only one of eight fell after he hit his first three. He did not score in the fourth period and finished with 10 points.
Hayes worked effectively against Robinzine for three quarters, but he added only two more baskets in the fourth and was held under 30 points for the first time in five games. He also had only six rebounds, half of Dandridge's total.
"Psychologically, this was our biggest victory of the year," Fitzsimmons said. "We were in our first real losing streak and without Scott. It was a great one to win. But we got a good game out of our bench, which hasn't been the case lately, and Ford was tremendous."
Ford, a rookie who Motta says plays "like he's been around 10 years," had a hand in every play at the end.
He fed Birdsong for a layup and a 110-108 lead and added two free throws after a foul by Wright in the back court. He assisted on Hillman's field goal, then drove the middle and was knocked down by Wes Unseld. He tossed in both free throws.
Following an assist on a Birdsong 12-footer, Ford wrapped up the contest with a three-point play when he swished a 25-foot jumper and was fouled by Wright.
"I just hope Henderson isn't out for a long stretch of time," said a frustrated Motta. "That leaves me with only one playmaker. And it's going to be hard to win that way."
Henderson said his ankle was hurting "pretty badly" after the game but he wouldn't know the full extent of the injury "until the morning when the swelling settles."
Last year, he was bothered much of the season by ankle sprains and didn't regain peak form until the play-offs."