The beleaguered Washington Bullets continued their downward slide tonight when they faded in the fourth quarter and lost to the lowly New Jersey Nets, 116-104.
The defeat was the Bullets' first at Rutgers Athletic Center. It also was the Bullets' second loss in two days and dropped their record to 14-18, marking the first time this season there have been as many as four games below .500.
Sharpshooting Mike Newlin did them in tonight, scoring 37 points and dealing eight assists. Teammate Winford Boynes, playing only the last 15 minutes, made six of seven shots and scored 14 points.
The Bullets got an outstanding 37-point, 18-rebound effort from Elvin Hayes, but the scrappy young Nets were just too deep and two good.
Newlin, who scored 34 points the last time he faced the Bullets, made 16 of 26 shots tonight against any and everyone the Bullets threw at him. Those included Kevin Grevey, Roger Phegley and Greg Ballard.
"I didn't have any other volunteers," said Coach Dick Motta. "Bring back Gus Bailey. In the old days we would have done something to slow Newlin down, but not today, because now you have to play with aprons."
Newlin scored 23 of his points in the first half, then kept on firing.
"I like to shoot the ball and when I'm in there that's what they want me to do," Newlin said. "If I don't I know I'll be out. My teammates set good picks for me and they got me the ball. They're also always telling me to shoot, even the guys on the bench are doing it. That's really unusual."
In addition to Hayes' strong performance, the Bullets got 24 points and 11 rebounds from Grey Ballard, playing 42 minutes in the absence of Bob Dandridge. Having to start Ballard is taking its toll on the Bullets. bIt hurt their bench strength in the Christmas Day loss to the 76ers and it hurt them again tonight, when the New Jersey reserves outscored Washington's, 39-9.
The Bullets, down by 12 points in the first half, fought back and took a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter after Hayes and Ballard scored 11 points in less than two minutes.
Newlin started hitting those 22-foot bombs again, though, and the Nets held an 84-82 lead going into the final quarter.
The Bullets missed their first four shots in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over twice while the Nets were scoring seven straight points. They never looked back, as Boynes and Newlin took turns drilling in long jumpers.
"We got down, but we didn't lose our poise," Motta said."Three-quarters of the way through the third period I thought we'd win by 15 points, but our shots just wouldn't fall and we flat out couldn't stop Newlin, couldn't stop him at all."
In contrast to the Nets' sharpshooting guards, Grevey and Roger Phegley of the Bullets made only five of 23 shots. The Bullets will play the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday at Capital Centre.