The Washington Bullets ran out of gas, breath and just about everything else tonight and the Denver Nuggets breezed, 125-111, at McNichols Arena.
The defeat brought a merciful end to a disastrous six-game road trip that saw the Bullets win only one time and sink to the Atlantic Division cellar with a 25-30 record. They have also fallen behind New York, Atlanta and Detroit in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
"We've put ourselves in a position now, where we have almost no slack," said Coach Gene Shue. "I'm just about out of new things I can try."
The Bullets have now lost 13 of their last 14 games on the road, but tonight's game started as if they were going to outrun the running Nuggets. Denver is first in the NBA in offense, but last in defense and their style is to get the ball up court and shoot it as quickly as possible.
The Bullets tried running with them early and two minutes into the seocnd quarter, were ahead, 43-30. They had scored a season-high 37 points in the first quarter. By the time the half ended, though, they were down by four amd sinking fast.
"We knew our best chance at winning was to control the pace, but we couldn't. It was their (the Nuggets) type of game," said Shue.
"We didn't play smart," said Don Collins. "We knew we couldn't win the game at the pace we were playing. Coach told us that at halftime and he was right. We ran out of gas and they just pulled in for a pit stop and filled up with ethyl."
The Nuggets got 34 points from Alex English, the NBA's leading scorer, and 20 from Dan Issel.
The Bullets were led by Greg Ballard with 29, but 23 of them were in the first half. Ricky Sobers had 24 and made three three-point shots.
Jeff Ruland, who had scored 99 points over a span of the three previous games, got kicked in the left calf late in the first quarter and scored only 19 points. He sat out the entire second period after leaving the game with the Bullets leading by nine. He returned for the second half with the leg heavily taped.
He said it was very sore, but the injury isn't believed to be serious.
"A real factor was when Jeff got hurt," said Shue. "That left us with no inside game."
Center Rick Mahorn, mired in a shooting slump, scored only six points, Spencer Haywood went scoreless again and Dave Batton had only four points. So much for the Bullets' inside game tonight.
The Bullets shot 52 percent from the field, but committed a season-high 29 turnovers, which the Nuggets converted into 28 points, and were outrebounded for the sixth straight game.
The Nuggets are one of the poorest rebounding teams in the league and had outrebounded their opponents in only 15 of 57 games before tonight.
The Bullets took the early lead by shooting away from the outside, but once the jumpers stopped falling, the Nuggets took over.
"We wanted them shooting from out there," said Denver Coach Doug Moe. "We didn't want them to get their inside game going against us because they could overpower us."
The Nuggets used an 18-4 run late in the second quarter to turn a 49-36 deficit into a 54-53 lead. Six different Nuggets scored at least two points in the rally.
The Nuggets led, 64-60, at the half and stretched it to 14 in the third period with a 10-0 run. English had six of those points.
Denver led by as many as 18 points in the final period before the Bullets rallied behind four three point shots, two each by Sobers and Frank Johnson. They never got closer than nine, however.
The Bullets finally return home Tuesday to face the Milwaukee Bucks. They haven't played at Capital Centre since they beat Houston Feb. 10.