The Washington Bullets squandered a 19-point first-quarter lead and then nearly made up a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit today before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers, 111-107.
The Bullets played well in the first quarter, shooting 63 percent and racing to a 37-18 lead. But they collapsed in the second quarter as the Lakers outscored them 32-12.
"We were out of character a bit when we got that big lead," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "We knew they'd come back on us."
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes leading the way, the Lakers, winners of 15 in a row and 27 out of 30 in the Forum, cruised to an 85-71 lead going into the final quarter.
But one likely Bullet hero -- John Williamson -- and one most unlikely one -- Kevin Porter -- nearly brought the Bullets back.
Williamson scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and Porter 10. Porter made all three of his field goal attempts and all four of his foul shots and had eight assists. He didn't commit a turnover.
"Kevin and Supe really played well together," Motta said. "I think we might have to use them as a pair more often."
Porter was surprised he got into the game at all.
"He (Motta) put me in only because we were way down," he said. "I was playing well so he left me in. All I've ever wanted here was a chance to play.
"I don't think I've gotten a fair chance this season, though, and I doubt if I'll be back here next year," Porter said. "You just never know what's going to happen from game to game. No one ever explains anything to you here."
Two Williamson jumpers and a Porter fast break brought the Bullets within two points at 107-105 with 1:22 left. But Wilkes, who finished with 23 points, made a baseline jumper 10 seconds later.
Elvin Hayes, who led the Bullets with 31 points, got the visitors back to within two on a dunk after a beautiful feed from Porter with seven seconds to play.
The only way the Bullets could get the ball back was to foul, but Norm Nixon converted two free throws after Dave Corzine fouled him in the back court and the game was over.
Playing once again without forward Bob Dandridge, the Bullets had little depth to match the deep and talented Lakers.
"We aren't dealing from a full deck and we got tired," Motta said.
Hayes hit the side of the backboard on his first shot of the game and the sellout Forum crowd of 17,505 started laughing.
The cackles stopped quickly as Hayes drilled in his next six shots, and the Bullets, running and gunning, raced to their 19-point lead and led 37-20 at the end of the first quarter.
The Lakers went into the game as the best shooting team in the National Basketball Association, making 54 percent of their shots. They shot only 39 percent in the first period, though, and had nine turnovers.
But they stayed calm. A hook by Abdul-Jabbar cut the Bullets' lead to 41-26 two minutes into the second period and that started the Lakers on a 22-2 scoring spurt that put the Lakers on top, 46-43, with 5:08 left in the half.
The Bullets, who lost five of the seven games on their road trip, their longest of the season, will be off until Thursday when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre. They still must catch New York and Indiana if they are going to make it to the playoffs.
As if the Lakers weren't giving the Bullets enough trouble, actor Jack Nicholson, seated at courtside, five seats away from Motta, started riding the Bullet coach. They exchanged some angry words as the first half ended.
"I had just gotten up to yell some instructions to my players and he grabbed my leg," Motta said. "He shouldn't have even been down there. I told him I invested in one of his movies and lost money."