Greg Ballard's 10 points might appear insignificant matched against the high rollers in last night's Laker-Bullet NBA game. But it was the timing of his production, not the quantity, that was so important to Washington.
Just when the Bullets needed a lift late in the third period, Ballard outmuscled Adrian Dantley for a string of eight straight points to wrest control of the game from the Lakers.
His teammates took it from there, breaking away to a 13-point fourth-period bulge before coasting in with a 120-111 triumph before 19,035 at Capital Centre, the third sellout of the home season.
Ballard's output changed a 84-81 Laker lead into an 89-86 Washington margin and finally took the bulk of the Bullet scoring pressure off Bob Dandridge, who had been keeping his team close with 14 of his game-high 30 points.
Dantley, who was taking advantage of Elvin Haye's foul trouble by out-quicking his new defender, Mitch Kupchak, picked up his fourth foul trying to stop Ballard and went to the bench after scoring eight points in the period.
Once he left, the Laker offense fell apart. Washingto pounced on the opportunity, getting baskets from Ballard, Charles Johnson and Wes Unseld to move out front by 10 early in the fourth quarter.The Bullets then could run out the clock en route to their 45th victory of the season.
Danridge put on a magificent exphibition. He popped seven of eight shots in the third quarter and 14 of 20 for the game while assisting on eight baskets. At on point he appeared to be in a game of one-on-five with the Lakers -- and he more than held his own until Ballard gave him help.
Unseld once again outperformed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The bulky Bullet center rumbled for 20 points and 16 rebounds while limiting his opponent to 17 and nine rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar was a factor only in the third quarter, when he had nine points.
As is usually the case when these teams play, Washington dominated the boards, holding a 50-40 advantage. Laker Coach Jerry West resorted to using backup center Dave Robisch at forward in the fourth period to help the rebounding but the move didn't pay off.
The Bullets' rebounding superiority is more impressive considering Hayes spent much of the game burdened by fouls and contributed only eight rebounds, along with 14 points.
"We feel we can go to the boards against this team," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "That's one of our main goals when we play them. We also were successful getting Abdul-Jabbar away from the baseline. That gives us mortal matchups at forward."
Despite Abdul-Jabbar's sometimes indifferent play, the Lakers were able to brush off 71 percent Bullet first-quarter shooting and stay within one at the half behind 16 points from guard Norm Nixon.
Then Dantley, Jamaal Wilkes and Abdul-Jabbar combined for 19 points early in the third to stake Los Angeles to that 84-81 margin. The Lakers were getting a bunch of easy baskets off set plays while only Dandridge was effective at the other end.
Motta took out Kupchak and sent in Ballard to shadow Dantley, who was to finish with 28 points. Ballard wasted little time getting into the flow of the game. He took a feed from Dandridge and swept in for a power layup to pull his club to within one.
Kenny carr answered with a 10-footer but Ballard drove for another layup around Dantley, then faked the Laker forward off his feet and into his fourth foul on a move under the basket. Dantley was replaced by Robisch and Ballard converted both free throws for an 87-86 Washington edge.
After an Abdui-Jabbar errant shot, Kevin Grevey failed on a jumper butr Ballard grabbed the rebound and put it in. Another Laker miss and Unseld made a pair of foul shots to force a Los Angeles timeout.
The Lakers had one run in the fourth quarter. With Unseld and Dandridge resting, Dantley returned and sparked an 8-4 Laker spurt that closed the lead to 110-103.
Motta rushed Unseld and Dandridge back in and Dandridge quickly swished a bomb from the corner to end the rally. Hayes, who hadn't scored after the first quarter, added a basket moments later and the crowd could file home.
Both teams were without starters. Playmaker Tom Henderson was sidelined with a bad ankle. Laketr guard Lou Hudson, who has a broken nose, dressed but did not play.
Larry Wright did a fine job filling in for Henderson, scoring 18 points before running into foul trouble in the second half, He matched Nixon. another burner, basket for basket in the first quarter while the more highly touted big men on both teams stood and watched.
Ballard labored in a brief first-half appearnace but was everywhere in the third period.
"I know I couldn't let Adrian drive the middle or get a step on me," he said. "I was a little tight but the I got that first drive and I loosened up. From then on. I figured I could score on him."
Ballard collected seven rebounds in only 18 minutes. Just two Lakers, Dantley and Abdul-Jabbar, topped his total.
"We had no problem running against them" said Wright, "and when we had to, set up our offense amd made that click too. I thought things went about how we had planned. We just had too much firepower for them."
If these clubs meet in the final round of the NBA playoffs, the Lakers will need a more sustained effort from Abdul-Jabbar. Otherwise, the pattern of last night's game, with the Bullets outrebounding Los Angeles and gertting better bench play, could preview how that series will turn out.