The Washington Bullets proved to be just what the home team needed to right itself tonight as the Chicago Bulls snapped a four-game losing streak, 117-105, over the weary visitors.
The defeat was the Bullets' fourth in a row and third in the last three nights, all in different cities. It dropped their season record to 3-8.
The disheartening thing about this game to Coach Gene Shue was that his team played about as well as it can, except in being outrebounded, 46-26. They shot 51 percent from the field and committed only nine turnovers and got a season-high 28 points from Greg Ballard and career highs of 23 from Frank Johnson and 18 from Jeff Ruland.
It still wasn't enough. The Bulls shot 61 percent and among them, Artis Gilmore, Ricky Sobers and Reggie Theus made 25 of 38 shots and scored 63 points. Gilmore had 23, Sobers 21 and Theus 19.
Chicago blew the game open in the third period when they scored 14 unanswered points to break away from a 59-59 tie.
Ronnie Lester started the spurt with a 16-foot jump shot and after a dunk by Gilmore, stole the ball from Kevin Grevey and made it a three-point play. Lester also assisted on a fast-break basket by Dwight Jones in the rally. Gilmore scored again and David Greenwood and Sobers also scored in the spurt, which gave the Bulls a 73-59 advantage.
The Bullets finally scored on two free throws by Johnson, ending a four-minute drought.
"It seems like it's always a stretch like the one we had in the third quarter that kills us," Shue said. "We played pretty well in the first half and we made them take the shots we wanted them to take, but they were making them."
The Bullets made a strong run at the Bulls after that miserable 14-0 stretch and, with Johnson scoring eight points in the third period's final five minutes, cut the Chicago lead to 82-76.
They got to within four points early in the last period after Ballard scored on a move in the lane and Johnson stole the ball from Theus and converted that into a three-point play. After his free throw the Bullets were down, 90-86, with 7:44 remaining.
Jones answered for Chicago with two free throws after being fouled by Ruland and Theus made a 15-footer after Johnson missed a layup and the Bulls were back on top, 94-86. The Bullets never threatened again.
John Lucas was playing with a painful right shoulder he injured in Friday night's loss to Houston at Capital Centre and his movement was restricted. He played only 21 minutes and made one of four shots. He did have nine assists, however.
It was the 6-2 rookie, Johnson, though, who showed he could be the offensive weapon the Bullets need so dearly.
He made nine of 16 shots from the floor, including three straight 18-foot pull up jump shots in the first half. He made all five of his foul shots and had four assists and two steals while turning the ball over only once.
"I was very pleased with the way Frank played," Shue said. "I mentioned to him a few games ago that he had to look for his points more. He did it tonight."
Shue started a front line of Jim Chones, Ballard, Rick Mahorn for the second straight game. Chones took only two shots and missed both of them, but was the Bullets top rebounder with eight.
Shue said he would probably stay with that trio for awhile in spite of tonight's outcome.
"I'm running out of things I can do," he said.