The Philadelphia 76ers burst the Bullets' bubble tonight, convincingly, at the Spectrum: 119-106.
Washington went into the game with a four-game winning streak and primed to reach the .500 mark for the first time since way back on Nov. 24 when the team was 9-9.
"Before it started, I placed as much importance on this game as any we've had this season," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "But everything was off stride from the beginning. No one was really in the game."
"What bothers me is that we just played so bad," commented guard Jim Cleamons.
The 76ers outscored the Bullets 14-2 midway through the second period to go from one point down to an 11-point lead. The Bullets never got back into the game.
Greg Ballard led the Bullets with a career-high 31 points, with three three-point shots in the final quarter. No other Bullet had more than 12 points.
The balanced 76ers were led by Julius Erving's 23 points. Six other Sixers scored in double figures.
The 76ers reserves, featuring Steve Mix's 19, totaled 57 points and gave their club the lift it needed when it was down.
"They might have the best bench talent-wise in the league," Motta said. "Mix just kills you."
Mix posted 13 of his points in the fourth quarter.
This was the fourth straight time the 76ers have beaten the Bullets this season -- and second time they did it with Bob Dandridge out of the Washington lineup.
Dandridge hurt his ankle in Wednesday's victory over the Los angeles Lakers and did not make the trip here.
With him absent, the Bullets' substitution pattern was thrown off and they looked lifeless.
"I wish we could play Philadelphia just once with all of our people healthy," Motta said. "Not having Bobby tonight certainly did hurt us."
The 76ers were outrebounded, 56-37, but they committed only 10 turnovers to 22 for the Bullets.
In one stretch of the first quarter, Philadelphia missed 10 straight shots, but all the Bullets could do was take a paltry 12-6 lead. The Bullets produced only 18 points in that period and Ballard had 10 of those.
Withal, the Bullets trailed by only a point at the quarter, and they moved ahead, 26-25, with baskets by Kevin Porter and Elvin Hayes early in the second period.
Then the Spectrum roof nearly fell in on them, much to the delight of the 15,571 in attendance.
Clint Richardson scored on a layup and Caldwell Jones tipped in a shot to put the 76ers on top by three, Hayes scored to make the count 29-23, but the 76ers ran off 10 straight points, seven by Erving, to go on top, 39-28, and the Bullets died.
Erving garnered 15 of his points in the first half, many of them via crowd pleasing moves. He did most of his scoring against Ballard and the Bullets eventually set Hayes to guarding him.
Erving's best move of the night was a blind, over-his-head layup as Ballard was fouling him.
Darryl Dawkins was rather low key. The massive Sixer took only seven shots, making four, and he grabbed only four rebounds. But he had five assists, including a fancy one when he was the middle man on a three-on-one fast break. Dawkins took a couple of dribbles, looked right and passed left to Maurice Cheeks, who converted an easy layup.
"This was a great win for us," 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham declared. "We started out lethargic, but worked our way out of it with our defense."
The 76ers won their fourth in a row and eighth in their last nine games, pulling 11 games ahead of the Bullets and staying one behind Boston.
Ballard, playing his best all-around game as a Bullet, at least statistically, collected 10 rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes.But the 76ers never let the Bullets get anything going.