John Lucas took control of the Washington Bullets tonight, directing them to their most impressive performance this season, a 95-87 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at the Omni.
Lucas scored a season-high 23 points and had 10 assists as the Bullets won for the second time in six tries.
With Lucas orchestrating outside and Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland dominating inside, the Bullets turned back a fourth-quarter Atlanta rally and held the Hawks scoreless for the game's final 3 minutes 53 seconds.
Mahorn had 16 rebounds, 13 points and two blocked shots. Ruland had a career-high 13 points and six rebounds as he and Mahorn outplayed Atlanta's Dan Roundfield and Wayne Rollins in the stretch.
A layup by Ruland after a good pass from Don Collins gave the Bullets a 90-80 lead with 5:46 to play.
Atlanta responded with seven straight points, five of them by Charlie Criss and two by Rory Sparrow, to close to within 90-87 with 3:53 left. The Hawks never scored again.
The Bullets were in the midst of a 4-minute 32-second scoring drought themselves, but their defense and rebounding strength bailed them out.
Mahorn blocked a jumper by Roundfield on one possession and then knocked the Atlanta star to the floor as he snatched a rebound the next time Atlanta got the ball, denying the Hawks the chance to cut the lead to one.
The Bullets finally scored when Lucas made two free throws after being fouled by Criss with 1:14 remaining.
Rudy Macklin missed a jumper on Atlanta's next possession and again Mahorn got the rebound. He was fouled by Criss and made one of two free throws for a 93-87 Bullet lead.
Ruland settled the game with 33 seconds left when he rebounded a Roundfield miss.
"The defense and rebounding were the difference," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "When they closed to three points, we kept making them miss and we kept rebounding the ball. We just played hard all night long. That's what we're going to have to do every time out. We're improving on offense, but with the defense is still the way we have to win."
Lucas set the tempo early for the Bullets by scoring the first two times he had the ball. He made sure everyone was in the offense and he frolicked around like the Lucas of old.
"I wish we could have played all 82 games tonight," he said, "because we were on, we were finally in a rhythm. We needed a game like this. It was a real morale booster."
It was a lineup of Ruland, Mahorn, Frank Johnson, Lucas and first Don Collins and then Greg Ballard that proved so effective for the Bullets.
This was the first game the Bullets played without Kevin Grevey, who will miss at least a week with a strained muscle in his left thigh. Shue started Brad Holland in Grevey's spot, but Holland went only two for nine, so Johnson teamed with Lucas in the back court most of the second half.
Shue said he would stay with Holland as the starter, however.
"I really think Brad is going to have a great shooting night real soon," Shue said. "He was just off tonight."
Another pleasing thing to Shue was the scoring productivity of his bench as Ruland, Johnson and Collins contributed 35 points.
The Hawks could be candidates for a M*A*S*H episode with all of their injuries. No. 1 draft choice Al Wood came off the injured list just before game time, but played only five minute and didn't take a shot. He has a chronic shoulder problem. Wes Matthews and John Drew still are on the injured list, each with a broken left foot. Tom McMillen wasn't in uniform because of a sore knee and Rollins was hobbled by a bad knee.
That left Roundfield to do virtually everything. He responded with 23 points and 15 rebounds, but ran out of gas late in the game.