The Washington Bullets tonight came up with their best performance against a good team this season, never letting the Phoenix Suns in the game on the way to a 106-93 victory before a surprised crowd of 9,764 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Frank Johnson had his best all-around game since finishing with 36 points and 15 assists against Chicago in the second game. Tonight he had 30 points and 14 assists.
Greg Ballard made 11 of 16 shots and had 23 points and 12 rebounds. Jeff Ruland had 20 points, 13 in the third quarter, when the Bullets moved to a 19-point lead.
The Bullets (5-8) shot 55 percent from the field, their best performance of the season, against the NBA's top defensive team. Until tonight, Phoenix had yielded only 98 points a game and had held its opponents to 43 percent shooting.
"They just controlled the game from the very beginning," said Phoenix Coach John MacLeod, whose team lost its fourth in 14 games and only the second time at home this season. "They executed their offense well and they confused us on defense by going from a half-court press to a three-quarters-court press."
Said Washington Coach Gene Shue: "We just played a terrific game. We were able to do all of the things we wanted to do. This could be the best we executed all season.
"Frank was just too quick for Walter Davis to keep up with," added Shue. "And we wanted Greg to go right at Larry Nance, which he did."
The victory was the Bullets' second straight on their four-game road trip. They lost to the Lakers Friday, their fifth straight defeat, but defeated San Diego Saturday. The Bullets will conclude this trip Friday night in Indianapolis.
With three days to prepare for this game, Shue made one lineup change and it made a difference. He benched Billy Ray Bates in favor of Don Collins. Collins, who was the starting shooting guard the first three games of the season before being replaced by rookie Bryan Warrick, performed well. He scored only 12 points, but had six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocked shots and played good defense against Davis.
Davis led the Suns with 20 points, but he got 13 in the third period, when Collins was tiring.
Johnson had 10 points and four assists in the first quarter and the Bullets took a 23-18 lead. They opened the second period with an 8-2 streak to take an 11-point lead, and the Suns never got closer than four points the rest of the game.
A 10-2 burst at the outset of the third period gave the Bullets their largest lead of the game, 59-40.
The Suns cut the margin to eight, but Johnson and Ruland, who combined for 23 points in the period, offset Davis and the Bullets still led, 82-69, entering the final quarter.
A 9-1 run got the Suns within 89-85 with 5:36 remaining, but Rick Mahorn, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, scored on a layup and Johnson made a 20-footer to get the Bullets' lead back to 93-85.
Phoenix last scored with 1:22 remaining and the Bullets scored the final seven points.
"I just tried to take advantage of my quickness," said Johnson. "I feel I should be able to beat a bigger guard most of the time."
Davis, 6-foot-6, had trouble keeping Johnson from penetrating. When the Suns put Johnny High or Kyle Macy on Johnson, he was content to take his jump shot.
"It was important for us to get off to a fast start, because of our style we aren't a good team to play catch-up," said Johnson. "If we get an early lead, we can control the tempo and run when we want to."