After a two-game blitz by the elite of the Eastern Conference, the Washington Bullets returned to more comfortable company last night and methodically defeated the San Diego Clippers, 108-98, before 8,421 at Capital Centre.
There was nothing memorable, controversial or particularly exciting about the victory, but after losses to Boston and Philadelphia, Coach Gene Shue was happy with his team's performance.
"Anyway, we won, that's exciting to me," he said. "I always like it when everybody shoots well."
With Frank Johnson directing the offense for 39 of the 48 minutes in place of John Lucas, who didn't show for the Philadelphia game, the Bullets made 59 percent of their shots, 40 of 68.
"I thought our defense was strong enough and we got balanced scoring, which I like," Shue said. "But we had a lot of chances to build a big lead and we didn't do it."
Rick Mahorn, playing his best offensive game of the month, sank nine of 11 shots and had 19 points; he and Spencer Haywood led the Bullets' scoring. Greg Ballard contributed 18 and Kevin Grevey 17.
"I just got more opportunities than usual," Mahorn said. "Scoring isn't my major role. My first responsibilities are defense and rebounding, closing down the middle.
"I'm not a main part of the offense," the second-year center with a 12-point average added. "But sometimes they call my play and I just have to take advantage of it."
Despite his accurate shooting, Mahorn was the butt of dressing room jokes. Teammates were calling him "Jerome" and asking him about his defensive skills. The reason was that San Diego center Jerome Whitehead had scored a career-high 31 points, making 13 of 14 shots.
"What difference does it make, we lost," Whitehead said. "The guys on the Bullets were saying 'nice game', but they wouldn't have said that if we had won. It was just one of those nights when you have your rhythm and your shots go in more than normal."
Whitehead scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers never got closer than 104-97 and by then there were only 21 seconds left.
"We played as well as we can," said San Diego Coach Paul Silas. "We really miss (Swen) Nater (out with a knee injury). When they used Mahorn and Jeff Ruland together, they just overpowered us."
After seven ties and six lead changes, the Bullets moved in front, 40-37, when Ruland made two free throws, then a half-hook with four minutes left in the first half.
By scoring the last four points, the Bullets increased their lead to 45-40 by halftime.
Grevey shot well early in the third period, sinking three three-point shots, but the Clippers stayed close after Whitehead made two in a row, running his streak of successful shots to seven.
Tom Chambers, the Clippers' first-round draft choice from Utah, made a spinning move to the basket and was fouled. The 6-foot-11 forward fell hard and lay motionless for a short time. He finally rose and made the free throw. Michael Brooks followed with a drive and San Diego was within two, 63-61.
The Clippers, losers of their last five, never got closer. Two foul shots each by Ballard and Johnson around a leaner by Grevey moved the Bullets in front, 71-63, with 51 seconds left in the quarter.
After Ballard scored six points early in the fourth quarter, the Bullets had control, 81-69.
Johnson and Mahorn played the entire second half as the game's slow pace enabled Shue to go with his regulars almost exclusively. Lucas, who missed the only shot he took, played almost nine minutes in the second quarter, but did not return.