The Bullets may have discovered the secret of success: when playing teams that are winning, jump on them so quickly that they don't know what has hit them.
Tonight, they did that for the second straight game, building a big first-half lead over the New Jersey Nets and going on to a remarkably easy, 105-90 victory over a team that came into the game with a four-game winning streak.
The Bullets (11-15) never trailed, leading by 18 at the half and by 30 after three quarters. Throughout the fourth period, the crowd of 11,251 at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena serenaded the home team with boos. The Nets (10-17) never were competitive, scoring only 59 points the first three quarters.
Kevin Grevey led the Bullets with 21 points, followed by Greg Ballard with 20, 16 of them during the Bullets' big first half. But, as has been the case most of the season, it was the defense that was key for the Bullets.
"Our defense was really outstanding the first three quarters," said Coach Gene Shue. "We just didn't let them do things that they like to do. We took away their fast break and made them set up, and when they did we did a really good job."
Like Friday's Capital Centre win over Indiana, this was one of those rare games when the Bullets were in command throughout, did not have to play under pressure in the fourth period and looked like a team with a future in the NBA.
"It was a great feeling to look up there after three quarters and see a 30-point lead," said Grevey. "Really nice for our confidence."
While the night was a buoyant one for the entire team, it was especially pleasing for Grevey, who has been bothered by a series of injuries all season and is only now beginning to approach full health.
"I need to be able to go all out in order to be effective," Grevey said. "It's very frustrating when you have those little injuries and you're still playing but you can't do the things you want to. You know what the problem is but nobody else does."
The Bullets had no problems tonight. They led, 18-8, by the time the game was seven minutes old and, when the Nets closed to within four, 27-23, at the end of the first quarter, they went on a 20-5 binge during the first half of the second to build a 19-point lead. New Jersey never got closer than 14 the rest of the night.
"You're going to have nights like this," said Net Coach Larry Brown, who railed at his team throughout to no avail. "I thought they played a hell of a game; give them a lot of credit for it. Gene's doing a great job with them. They played good defense and I thought they ran their offense really well.
"But, heck, we shot 38 percent and I guarantee you that's because we made 10 of our last 12 shots."
That last run came long after the game had ceased to exist as a contest. Albert King, the former Maryland star, got seven of his 14 points during the last quarter (one point less than the Nets' high man, James Bailey) but at least looked totally recovered from the knee injury that delayed the start of the season for him. Buck Williams, another former Terrapin for New Jersey, had a second straight rough night, shooting three for 11 from the floor for seven points. He did grab 14 rebounds, however.
This was the Bullets' night. That was evident in the third quarter, which started with Washington leading, 60-42. During that period, Spencer Haywood provided 10 of his 12 points to make sure the Nets didn't creep close. At one point, Grevey threw in a driving, off-balance 20-footer as the 24-second clock ran out. And, as if in summary of the evening, Ray Williams (two for nine for the night) tossed in a 60-footer--a split second after the buzzer sounded.
It was 89-59 at that point and the last 12 minutes was a long session of garbage time. The Bullets finished with a 58-43 rebounding edge and traded numerous high-fives on the bench the last quarter.
"We need a couple nights like this, maybe four or five of them," said John Lucas, who had nine assists while it was competitive. "We'd played so many tough games, close losses, that our confidence was in the danger zone, back at the warning track. Now, we're back in the ballpark."