The Washington Bullets led by 24 points in the second quarter last night, trailed by two entering the fourth period, then rallied to beat the Denver Nuggets, 98-90, for their seventh victory in their last nine games.
The victory, witnessed by a Capital Centre crowd of 5,684, the Bullets' smallest there this season, evened their record at 10-10. It also ended, at 136, the Nuggets' National Basketball Association record of consecutive games in which they had scored 100 or more points.
The last time the Nuggets failed to reach 100 was Jan. 18, 1981.
They made up for a dreadful first half by outscoring the Bullets, 36-16, in the third quarter to take a 77-75 lead into the final period. However, a three-point play by Jeff Ruland (23 points) gave the Bullets an 80-79 lead and they never again trailed.
"We're very proud of the fact that we're the team that shut down the record," said Coach Gene Shue. "Defense is our game."
The Nuggets showed little remorse over their streak being stopped.
"If we had won, 98-90, I'd have been happy," said Dan Issel, who scored 14 of his 24 points in the third quarter. "The streak just didn't mean that much."
Said Denver Coach Doug Moe, "We kept the streak going because our defense is so bad we let the other teams score so quickly we always have the ball on offense. That record didn't mean a thing. It certainly didn't tell how good we are. We just run up and down the floor. The village idiots could score 100 points if you keep up the pace."
The Nuggets are leading the NBA in offense, averaging 123.4 points a game, but are last in defense, giving up 125.7.
A key to the Bullets' victory was Rick Mahorn's defense on Alex English. English, the league's third-leading scorer with a 30.6 average, had averaged 35.5 points the last 11 games. But Mahorn held him to 24, 10 in the first half.
"Rick did an incredible job on English, especially in the first half," said Shue. "We put Ricky on him because he is such a good defensive player. He has good foot movement and English couldn't post him up and shoot his jumper over him. English likes to go to his left and shoot his jump shot, but Rick played him very intelligently and wouldn't let him have that move."
"You have to crowd English," said Mahorn, who guarded Issel in the two meetings with the Nuggets last season. "He (English) likes to face you with the ball up high so he can shoot it right away. You have to keep a hand up on him."
In the first half, none of the Nuggets could shoot straight. Ruland scored 12 points in the first quarter, which ended with the Bullets ahead, 27-21. Six unanswered points on baskets by John Lucas and Dave Batton and two foul shots by Mahorn gave the Bullets a 12-point lead early in the second period, then a 10-2 spurt, with Charles Davis scoring eight of the points, gave Washington an 18-point advantage.
A 10-0 burst later that period, Mahorn getting four of the points, gave the Bullets a 55-31 lead. They were ahead, 59-41, at halftime.
That quarter the Nuggets also lost starting guard Billy McKinney when he collided with the Bullets' Frank Johnson and crashed to the floor, face first, sending a tooth through his lip. McKinney was taken to the dressing room on a stretcher and had to have 16 stitches to close the cut on his lip and another inside his mouth.
But in the third period the Nuggets made a game of it, as Issel and English led them back. A 13-2 spurt, with Issel scoring 11 points, cut the Bullets' lead to 73-68. After Lucas made a jumper, the Nuggets scored the last nine points of the quarter, English getting four and Issel three, to take a two-point lead into the final 12 minutes.
In that period, however, the Bullets held them to 13 points.
The Bullets were outrebounded, 58-48, as Issel got 13. The Bullets' Don Collins had a career-high 14 rebounds and scored 13 points, six in the first four minutes of the last period.