In an effort worthy of the worst weather of the season and the all-time low turnout, the high-flying Bullets came to earth last night with an embarrassing thud.
Putting out all the enthusiasm of teen-agers asked to shovel snow, the passive Bullets stood around and let the lowly Dallas Mavericks win their first road game in 11 tries, 107-102.
With only 3,618 on hand to cheer them on, the Bullets acted as if they wanted to be somewhere else. They played defense like so many snowmen and jumped like they were playing on ice.
The most meaningful statistic, the one that sums up the contest between two noncontenders the best, was that the Mavericks outrebounded the bigger Bullets by a whopping 53-33 margin.
"They just completely dominated the boards, particularly on the offensive boards," said a disappointed Coach Gene Shue. "They not only got all the rebounds, they got all the loose balls, too."
The Mavericks, one of the league's poorest rebounding teams, got 25 on offense and turned them into 18 points. The lethargic Bullets managed only seven for 10 points.
"Our kids really hustled, they worked hard for this one," said Coach Dick Motta, who was beamming. "We did a great job on the boards and a lot of that was pure desire."
Rookie Jay Vincent, filling in for the injured Mark Aquirre, had his most productive game as a professional, scoring a game-high 31 points. It was an old local favorite, Brad Davis, however, who was the most effective Maverick. It took Vincent 33 shots to get his points, but Davis made eight of 12 shots, scored 21 points and had nine assists while playing against his former teammate at Maryland, John Lucas.
"I learned a lot from Luke when I was here," Davis said. "But it's been five years. I don't think I get any more pumped up for him. This game meant a lot to all of us. It was a big win."
There were 12 ties and 11 lead changes through the first 2 1/2 quarter before Dallas edged in front, 66-65, on a layin by Vincent after a clever pass from Allan Bristow with 4:07 left in the third period. Shue immediately called timeout and changed guards, inserting Kevin Grevey and Frank Johnson.
The Bullets got a break when Dallas center Kurt Nimphius committed his fifth foul and went to the bench a minute later. They quickly went inside to Rick Mahorn, now being guarded by Scott Lloyd. Mahorn scored his team's last six points of the period and the Mavericks took a shakey 78-75 lead into the last quarter.
When Lloyd switched to Jeff Ruland to start the final period, the Bullets' 6-foot-11 rookie went to the low post and scored his team's first five points.
Johnson scored six points and Ruland another five to keep the Bullets within three, 92-89. Then came the big play.
Davis started to drive the middle and was fouled by Johnson. The former Maryland star went on to make the shot and the official ruled it was a continuation play and the basket counted. Shue protested so vehemently that he was assessed a technical foul, Jim Spanarkel making that free throw for a four-point play.
A three-point basket by Johnson with 1:15 left reduced the Dallas lead to 101-98. After Bristow missed one of his two free throws, Ruland's soft hook closed the Bullets to two with 42 seconds to play.
Elston Turner, a second-round pick from Mississippi who had eight points, then sank a jumper from the left side when Grevey backed off to protect the baseline.
One of the most popular tendencies in the NBA is for teams that complete a successful road trip to let down in their first home game, particularly against a weak opponent. Never was it more obvious, and both coaches recognized it.
"This was a great time to catch them," said Motta, again flashing an ear-to-ear grin. "I told our players we had a psychological advantage tonight and that we should take advantage of it.
"You know," he added. "I've never had that problem with the Mavericks."
Maverick road victories are rare: there now have been five in 47 attempts in their brief history.
The Bullets play at Cleveland tonight.