Despite another excellent defensive effort, the Bullets' modest two-game winning streak ended here tonight when Los Angeles pulled away to a 102-98 victory in the Forum.
The Bullets controlled the pace of the game and held the high-scoring Lakers under 100 points until the final minute, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dunked after a pass from Magic Johnson, then made a free throw.
Greg Ballard led the Bullets with 21 points, but was held to four in the fourth quarter. Don Collins scored seven of his 17 points down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to offset the remarkable outside shooting of the Lakers.
It was a standoff between Bullet center Rick Mahorn and Abdul-Jabbar, the league's six-time most valuable player, with each scoring 16 points. Abdul-Jabbar scored seven of his team's last 11 points, however, as the Bullets had to gamble defensively.
Norm Nixon, who made two crucial 20-footers in the closing minutes, led the Lakers with 24 points, two more than Jamaal Wilkes and Johnson.
"We played well enough to win," said Bullet guard John Lucas. "We set the tempo. We did what we had to do defensively, but they just made those long shots when they had to."
Although guard Kevin Grevey was ready to play, Collins again was in the starting lineup for the Bullets as they attempted to win at the Forum for the first time since Jan. 27, 1976. Grevey, who has a variety of injuries, did not play.
Spencer Haywood, making his first appearance here since being dropped by the Lakers during the 1980 championship series, obviously was pressing as he took -- and missed badly -- the Bullets' first two shots.
It took the Bullets three minutes to score. Mahorn made a turnaround jumper, but the Lakers took a quick 10-4 lead.
Lucas made a 12-footer, then drove in for another basket that brought the Bullets within two. Haywood finally was successful on a jumper and after Collins' breakaway basket, the Bullets trailed, 14-12, at the halfway point of the period.
Jeff Ruland replaced Haywood and led a Bullet surge that brought them even at 27 at the end of the first quarter. The 6-foot-11 rookie from Iona scored six points in the last three minutes, and Frank Johnson's 14-footer with eight seconds left tied the score.
Johnson scored five straight points at the beginning of the second quarter, and Norm Nixon, made back-to-back baskets, the Lakers were in front, 42-36.
After falling behind, 49-40, the Bullets scored eight straight points, four by Ballard. Following two free throws by Nixon, Frank Johnson dribbled the length of the court for a layup at the buzzer that again brought the Bullets within a point.
Ballard was the most consistent Bullet in the first half, making six of 10 shots, including a three-pointer, for 13 points.
After the Lakers took a 56-50 lead, the Bullets answered with six points, four by Haywood on medium-range jumpers, to tie it again. Following three more ties, Collins put the Bullets in front, 66-64, with a turnaround jumper.