The Washington Bullets, who keep losing offensive stalwarts because of injuries, are doing their part to disprove the old theory that nobody plays defense in the NBA.
"We just can't go out and outscore anybody," said Coach Gene Shue. "What we have to do is keep the score in the 90s and hope we can do the right things at the end of the game to pull it out.
"The best part of our game is at the defensive end, it's that simple."
Going into tonight's game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30), the Bullets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having won 13 of their last 18 games, to improve their record to 16-13.
In that stretch, the opposition has scored 100 points or more only four times and the Bullets have yielded an average of only 93.7 a game.
The Bullets are the second-best defensive team in the league, giving up an average of 98.2 points a game. The Knicks are first, yielding 97.4.
In the last 18 games, the Bullets have done the following:
* Held Denver to 90 points, to end the Nuggets' streak of consecutive games scoring 100 or more points at an NBA record 136.
* Held Cleveland to 74 points, an all-time Bullets opponent's low and the lowest output of any team in the NBA this season.
* Held Milwaukee to 87 points, its fewest this season.
The last two games have been typical Bullets productions. Monday, they beat Chicago, 89-87, when Greg Ballard made a 20-foot jump shot on an in-bounds play with one second left after the Bullets held the Bulls to 12 points in the fourth quarter. Two nights later, they held Milwaukee to two points in the final two minutes and won, 94-87.
"When you play the style we play, the game comes down to execution, and in that respect, we are a good offensive team. We execute our plays as well as any team in the league," said Ballard.
Shue's defensive philosophy isn't based on shot-blocking, but rather on doing little things, like making an opponent work harder to get the ball into the front court, thus leaving it with little time left on the 24-second clock; or overplaying a defender to make a pass to him difficult.
"When you don't have big scorers, you have to to little things," said Shue. "How else are we going to win?"
It appears that Shue has decided to continue starting Bryan Warrick at point guard, and then going with Kevin Porter as his backup. That leaves John Lucas little playing time.
Ever since Porter was signed to take injured Frank Johnson's place Dec. 20, his playing time has increased and Lucas' diminished.
Lucas played a total of four minutes the last two games, while Porter played a season-high 29 minutes against the Bucks and has impressed Shue.
It also appears the Bullets will play with 11 men until Johnson (right elbow) returns from the injured list, which is expected to be in about two weeks. Don Collins, who has a stress fracture in his left foot, hasn't been placed on injured list, even though he is expected to be out five to six weeks.