It was a three-ring NBA circus at Capital Centre last night, where the Bullets almost squandered a 24-point halftime lead before beating the Seattle SuperSonics, 103-91.
In the main ring, the Bullet fast break overwhelmed the lumbering Sonics for the first 24 minutes -- Washington outscored Seattle, 25-0, on fast breaks in the half. In the second half, the Bullets relaxed and the Sonics regrouped, getting within six before Greg Ballard (26 points) kept Seattle at bay with his long jump shots.
In one side ring, the Bullets were moving personnel as Wes Unseld returned from a knee injury to get 11 rebounds in 17 minutes. Afterward, the Bullets released 6-foot-11 Lewis Brown, who played only 90 seconds since signing a 10-day contract, to make room for center Rick Mahorn, coming off the injured list (broken hand).
And, in the other side ring, Bullet scorng leaders Elvin Hayes and Kevin Grevey were going through a horrible shooting night (a combined seven for 27), with Hayes scoring a season-low five points.
Yet, the Bullets won their sixth game in the last seven, on the strength of Ballard continued high scoring, the presence of newcomer Don Collins, the play off the bench of Mitch Kupchak and another solid, flashy game by Kevin Porter.
The Sonics lost their fifth straight game.
Collins started his first game, replacing Anthony Roberts at forward, and scored 15 points with six steals, a team high this season. Kupchak made 10 of 13 shots, scoring 22 points in only 24 minutes. Porter had 16 points and 13 assists.
Seattle, which has lost 12 of its last 15 games and is in last place in the Pacific Division with a 21-29 record, was dreadful in the first half. This was its sixth straight game on the road and it showed in the first half.
The bullets beat the Sonics up the floor on offense and then beat them back on defense, cruising to a 61-37 halftime lead. They scored five points in the last four seconds of the half. Ballard made two free throws after being fouled by Wally Walker in the backcourt. Seattle then tried a length-of-the-court pass, but Collins, in his third game as a Bullet, intercepted and passed to Porter, who made a three-point, 35-foot set shot as the first half ended.
It was different in the second half.
The Sonics opened with a 19-4 scoring spurt, with John Johnson getting eight of the points. Seattle made nine of its first 11 shots; the Bullets made one of 11.
"We came in the locker room at halftime over-confident and they went in and got bawled out," Kupchak said. "Those two things canceled each other out. They were up to do better in the second half and we let up, and them getting back in the game was the result."
The closest Seattle got was 86-80 early in the fourth period, after six straight points on baskets by James Bailey, Johnson and Jack Sikma. But Hayes tipped in a missed shot and Ballard made a pair of 20-foot jump shots around a Bailey basket and the lead was back to 10.
The Bullets worked the clock to their advantage the rest of the game.
With Collins, obtained as a guard/forward from Atlanta in exchange for small guard Wes Matthews, playing so well, Roberts' playing time has gone from 13 minutes three games ago to six minutes two games ago to no minutes last night.
Unseld's appearance was his first since Jan. 6. He has tendinitis in his right knee and he said it's still sore.He didn't move well and said he'll know today if he'll be able to continue playing.
The Bullets' next game is Sunday afternoon in New Jersey.
Bailey was the big man for Seattle with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, but Ballard was a problem for him. Ballard took him outside, banging into Hayes. Unseld or Kupchak picks and scored on 20-footers on him, almost at will. He made four straight from the top of the key in the final period.
"With the lineup we had in there most of the time, they had to put Bailey on Greg and he couldn't stay with him," Bullet Coach Gene Shue said.
Ballard has scored 28, 27 and 26 points in the last three games.
"We were very good in the transition game," Shue added. "We were super in the first half."