Kevin Porter put on a dazzling fourth-quarter performance last night to put some life into the weary Bullets and spark them to an important 105-99 victory over the Houston Rockets at Capital Centre.
Porter scored a season-high 21 points, 14 in the final period, to help the Bullets erase an 11-point deficit.
Porter taught talented Houston rookie Allan Leavell a thing or two late in the game as the Bullet took complete charge of the game.
Porter, who always looks to pass first and shoot later, also handed out eight assists. But it was his scoring that the Bullets needed last night, and he delivered.
Two free throws by Major Jones gave the Rockets an 86-75 lead with 10 minutes to play, but Porter then took flight and the Bullets steadily made up ground. Porter swiped the ball from Leavell off the rookie's dribble and scored a layup to cut the lead to seven points, and, after Larry Wright hit two baseline jump shots after assists from Porter, the guard scored on a driving layup to cut Houston's lead to 96-94 with 2:43 to play.
Wright tied the score at 96 with a difficult 15-footer with 1:54 remaining.
Porter gave the Bullets their first lead since early in the first quarter with a driving one-hander over Levell 30 seconds later and, after Elvin Hayes blocked a Moses Malone shot, Porter scored on another driving shot. That put the Bullets on top, 100-96, with 44 seconds to play.
Porter stole the ball from Leavell again and was fouled as he did it. He converted two free throws with 36 seconds left and the Bullets led by six.
Porter made all six of his field goal attempts and had four of his assists in the final period.
"We were really fatigued, but we hungin there," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "We got ahead at just the right time. This was a classic comeback. We never manipulated people as much as we did tonight."
With Bob Dandrige absent with his sore calf and Mitch Kupchak out because his back was bothering him, the Bullets has a serious depth problem.
Motta just kept shuffling players, trying to find the right combinations without overworking anyone.
The Porter-Wright pairing was the one that clicked down the stretch.
Porter has been one of the most effective Bullets lately. He had averaged 10 points and eight assists in the five games before last night.
Porter twisted his ankle late in the game and even though he had it wrapped heavily in ice afterwards, he said he was fine.
"When I first went into the game in the second quarter I turned the ball over twice right away because they were playing me to pass and I tried to force the ball in," Porter said. "That's when I started going to the basket and trying to score. Everybody plays me for the pass so I knew sooner or later things would open up for me."
The defenses are so aware of Porter's passing ability that when he penetrates, they drop off him and cut off his passing lanes. That usually leaves him up in the air, three feet from the basket with no defender in front of him.
The Bullets were getting beaten by Houston's quickness in Leavell and former Bullet Tom Henderson. They went down by 14 points early and struggled most of the game.
Motta finally went to Wright and Porter to offset some of Houston's quickness. Wright made three of four shots in the final quarter.
"I just tried to get us going any way I could," said Wright, "We weren't playing well and I couldn't do any worse than anyone else was doing."
Hayes led the Bullets with 27 points and 13 rebounds while Malone had 23 points and Leavell 22 for the Rockets.
Houston dressed only nine men for the game. Regular starters Robert Reid and Calvin Murphy were back home. Murphy sustained a concussion in Wednesday's 110-97 Houston victory over Washington and Reid has pericarditis.
The Bullets' victory, their fourth in the last five games, kept them within 2 1/2 games of New York in the race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks beat San Antonio last night, 133-124.
After two days' rest, the Bullets will meet another team they must pass to get into the playoffs -- Indiana -- Sunday afternoon at Capital Centre.