The Washington Bullets stumbled and sputtered a bit last night, but they made the big plays in the final minutes and continued their amazing winning streak with a 108-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns, the only team in the National Basketball Association other than Philadelphia and Boston to have won 40 or more games this season, played without center Alvan Adams. But with the game plan the Bullets executed at Capital Centre, it was doubtful Adams would have made a difference.
The Bullets packed their defense inside, giving the Suns all the outside shots they wanted, controlled the rebounding and ran at every opportunity. The race-horse Suns couldn't keep up.
The Suns tried posting the Bullet guards with 6-foot-6 Walter Davis and 6-4 Dennis Johnson, but that strategy never really worked. The Bullets countered with the close-in defense that helped out Kevin Porter and Kevin Grevey, and with the Phoenix guards playing inside, often no one was back defense to stop the Bullet's fast break.
The victory was the Bullet's fourth in a row and 10th in the last 12 games, but because of the long layoff for Sunday's All-Star game they don't play again until Tuesday, when they will be at Portland to start a seven-game road trip.
"We're peaking now and I hate to see us have a layoff like this, because there's no telling what will happen or how we'll feel when we come back," said Coach Gene Shue.
Greg Ballard led the Bullets last night with 26 points, the sixth straight game he has scored 23or more. Porter, who controlled the tempo most of the contest, finished with 21 points and nine assists.
Wes Unseld played his best game since coming back from his knee injury, with 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Truck Robinson led Phoenix with 26 points. Reserve guard Johnny High set a Phoenix and Bullet opponent record with nine steals, but he almost negated all of them himself with six turnovers.
The game had some bizarre moments, such as Unseld getting a long outlet pass from Porter and Elvin Hayes dribbling the ball at midcourt to run out the clock. But lately, everything the Bullets do seems to come out right.
"We just feel we can't lose when we go out there," Shue said.
It showed last night.
The Bullets had a chance to fold, as the Suns closed from 16 points back to trail, 100-98, with 1:19 remaining. But the Bullets, with a crowd of 9,347 urging them on, hardly flinched. They scored the game's last eight points, Hayes and Grevey getting four each.
Davis, who floundered at guard for most of the game, was switched to forward and scored five straight points in the Spurs' fourth-quarter rally.
With 1:02 remaining, Hayes made a turnaround jump shot with three Suns hanging on him and the 24-second clock running down. That gave Washington a 102-98 lead.
Davis, trying to bring the Suns back all by himself, put his head down and drove the baseline on Ballard. But once he got to the basket he had nowhere to go and threw the ball away.
Grevey then made two free throws and, after a Phoenix miss, Hayes made two foul shots after he put on his dribbling exhibition.
Phoenix, which missed 18 of 24 shots in the fourth period, missed again on its next possession and Grevey ended the game with a fastbreak layup.