Most people like to be home for the holidays, but the young Washington Bullets obviously enjoy travel.
In their last seven road games, the Bullets have won five, including tonight's 107-103 victory over Indiana. The two setbacks were by two and four points.
The reserves, led by Jeff Ruland's 21 points and 19 rebounds, were the difference against the Pacers as the Bullets won for the fourth time in five games and raised their road record to 7-8.
In addition to Ruland's impressive 30-minute performance, the Bullets received excellent play from substitutes Frank Johnson and Don Collins.
Johnson contributed 13 points and nine assists. Collins, giving the team the quickness it needed, had all nine of his points in the second quarter when the Bullets turned the game around, outscoring the Pacers, 34-23.
"We're a new group; we've got a lot of young players who just go out and play," Coach Gene Shue said when asked about the Bullets' success away from home.
"We haven't established anything at home yet," he continued. "When we play at Capital Centre, it's just like we're playing any other place. Eventually, we'll establish a home-court advantage and then we're really be in good shape."
The Bullets have a better record on the road than at home, where they have won six of 14 games. Since Dec. 1, they are 6-3 on the road; the losses were by four points at Los Angeles, two at Chicago and four at Milwaukee.
This trip never would have been a success if Shue had to rely on his starters. After eight minutes Indiana was leading, 18-10, and the Bullets had made only two of their 11 shots.
"We're not supposed to start off taking 30-footers," Shue said, referring to his sweeping lineup change. Johnson and Garry Witts took over for John Lucas and Kevin Grevey in the back court and Ruland and Jim Chones replaced Spencer Haywood and Rick Mahorn up front.
Johnson immediately picked up the tempo, getting into the plays before the Pacers' defense was set. With George McGinnis trying to front Ruland, Johnson starting lobbing passes and Ruland scored six straight points.
With Ruland and Chones taking charge of the rebounding, Collins was able to get out on the break, and he broke away for four layups.
Johnson tied the game for the first time at 35 with a 20-footer and with Collins getting six of the next eight points, the Bullets built a 43-37 advantage. The Pacers made a mild comeback, but Johnson squelched it with a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Bullets a 50-45 lead.
In the first half, the Bullets' reserves scored 40 of the team's 50 points, with Ruland leading the way with 12 and Johnson scoring 11.
"That's a great advantage when we can put in a whole new unit," Ruland said. "Most teams just change one or two players, but we've got a completely different team that can come in and change a game."
Once the Bullets had the lead, their defense, ranked No. 2 in the NBA, took over. The Pacers didn't get their 100th point until 21 seconds remained and Clemon Johnson made an uncontested layup because the Bullets didn't want to commit a foul.
One of the most impressive things about the Bullets' control in the stretch was that their last 23 points all were scored by the front court. Ballard had 11 of his 23, Ruland contributed six, Mahorn five and Chones one.
"Obviously, that's what we want to do," Shue said. "We were doing a good job of getting the ball down low, where the high percentage shots are."
After missing 19 of their first 25 shots, the Bullets settled down and ran their plays well enough to make 37 of their last 69 (54 percent).
Ruland's 19 rebounds were six more than his previous high. Johnson had nine assists and four steals . . . The Pacers have lost four of five, including three straight at home. Their biggest lead was 27-18 early in the second quarter . . . Mike Bantom's 24 points topped the Pacers' scoring . . . The Bullets will return home to meet New Jersey Tuesday night before going back on the road for three straight games, at Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York.
In other National Basketball Association games, The Hawks edged the Nets, 97-95, the 76ers held on to beat the Jazz, 109-107, the Knicks routed the Pistons, 121-108, the Celtics turned back the Cavaliers, 106-103, the Bucks held off the Bulls, 128-121, The Spurs defeated the Nuggets, 148-133, and the Suns beat the SuperSonics, 120-97.
In West Coast games, the Rockets defeated the Clippers, 108-101, and the Warriors routed the Mavericks, 119-100.