The Washington Bullets finally found a team they could beat last night -- the lowly, short-handed New Jersey Nets.
It was still a struggle. The Bullets needed a goal tending call against George Johnson and two key rebounds by Gus Bailey in the final 68 seconds to eke out a 104-100 victory.
The Nets had only eight players because of a rash of injuries and the Bullets wore them down. Washington had what looked to be a comfortable 95-83 lead with less than six minutes to play but almost blew the game, before 7,498 at Capital Centre.
The Bullets were ahead, 100-97, with 1:50 to play when Winford Boynes scored on a driving layup to his left. Bob Dandridge fouled him and Boynes converted the three-point play to tie the score at 100 with 1:35 remaining.
Kevin Porter, who started last night after being benched for the Indiana game, stole a Boynes pass and was awarded two points when Johnson was called for goaltending on his layup attempt.
That gave the Bullets a 102-100 lead with 1:08 remaining. Bailey was checked in to the game for defensive purposes and he came up with a big rebound after a Boynes miss.
Porter missed a shot on Washington's next possession. Wes unseld took the rebound, but lost it.
Ed Jordan attempted twice to tie the score at the other end, but missed both times from close range. Bailey eventually grabbed the rebound and called time with 16 seconds remaining.
The Nets were forced to foul and Larry Wright made two free throws for the game's final points.
The Bullets snapped a three-game losing streak. It was only their second win in the last seven games. A defeat would have put them in the Atlantic Division cellar, below New Jersey.
The Nets were in trouble before the game even started. Their leading scorer and rebounder, rookie Calvin Natt, bruised his shoulder and sprained his ankle while slam-dunking against Denver Friday night and was not present last night. Their second-leading scorer, John Williamson, has a bruised and didn't dress. Second-leading rebounder and starting center Rich Kelley could not play due to a sprained ankle.
"They were crippled with only eight people, but I don't see how they could have played any better," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta.
With Williamson and Natt out of the lineup, Mike Newlin was putting shots up from all over Capital Centre. He had 39 points Friday against Denver and poured in 34 last night. He made two of six three-point shot attempts.
Dandridge led the Bullets with 24 points and Roger Phegley finished with 20.
In a surprise move just before game time, Motta decided to start Porter in place of Wright. Wright got his first start in the Bullets' 99-91 loss to Indiana Friday night.
"I went back to Kevin because he's got to be the one to do it," Motta said. "I just feel that Larry is better off the bench."
Porter responded with an 11-assist, 10-point effort. He had eight assists and six points in the third period, when the Bullets outscored the Nets, 33-18, to take an 85-72 lead into the last quarter.
'I just come here each night and try to do my job," said Porter. "I'll do whatever the situation calls for. I'll contribute whatever I can.
"I'm still not satisfied with my play yet," continued the guard, who had six turnovers last night. "I felt like everything was coming around and then I was struggling again."
Wright scored 12 points in 19 minutes as a reserve. Phil Chenier did not play. Newlin, who shoots a high-arching shot, scored 13 points in the first quarter, but could not convert against Bailey in the period after Motta assigned his 6-5 defensive specialist to guard Newlin.
Whenever Newlin got hot, Motta inserted Bailey into the lineup to cool him off and he was usually successful.
Bailey's days as a Bullet could be numbered, however, and he knows it. Kevin Grevey, who was in the injured list all of November with hamstring problems, is almost ready to be activated. The Bullets have indicated that Bailey may have to go when Grevey returns.
As Bailey left the Bullet locker room to appear on the postgame show last night, he paused and said partly in jest, "That's not bad for a last game is it?"