The unpredictable Washington Bullets, who have struggled against some of the National Basketball Association's worst teams, defeated another of its best last night, stunning the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, 96-93, at Capital Centre.
Guard Ricky Sobers, who had a dreadful first half, scored the Bullets' last seven points and got 14 of his 16 in the final quarter as the Lakers were slowed to a walk and made to play the game on Washington's terms.
Sobers' 17-footer with nine seconds left put the Bullets ahead, 94-93. And he sank two insurance free throws after Rick Mahorn, who made 11 of 13 shots and had 13 rebounds, forced Magic Johnson into an erratic four-footer with four seconds left, the ball clanking off the basket support. Sobers went to the line after Norm Nixon fouled him as soon as the Bullets inbounded the ball, the Lakers having used their last timeout.
Sobers, who barely missed a three-point shot at the buzzer in a two-point loss in Atlanta Thursday night, said, "It's my job to make things happen and get the job done."
"Ricky took charge at the end, like he's supposed to," said Coach Gene Shue. "That's what we got him for."
The victory ended a four-game losing streak, but the Bullets are two games behind the New York Knicks in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Still six games below .500, they have beaten Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Boston twice. Those are the teams with the four best records in the NBA.
"It doesn't matter who we play," said Shue.
This game started as if the Lakers were going to embarrass the Bullets in front of 17,118 spectators. They raced to a 30-16 lead at the end of the first quarter, shot 66 percent in the first half and led, 59-45, at intermission.
It was a different game from then on, though. The Bullets controlled the tempo and made the Lakers play their slow-paced game. They took away the fast break and took the Lakers out of their set offense with a swarming defense that double-teamed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar whenever he got the ball.
The 7-foot-2 Lakers center missed his first nine shots in the second half and the Lakers made only four of 21 shots (19 percent) in the third quarter. They scored 34 points in the second half.
"Our defense was incredible," said Shue. "They couldn't get into what they wanted to and they couldn't run."
The Bullets pecked away at the Lakers' lead and tied at 77 after a three-point basket by Sobers and a three-point play by Jeff Ruland, who was the Bullets' high scorer with 26 points.
Washington took an 89-87 lead when Don Collins, who had six steals, swiped the ball from Abdul-Jabbar on the blind side and drove the length of the floor for a layup with 2 minutes 21 seconds remaining.
Norm Nixon, who led the Lakers with 26 points, tied the score with a 15-footer, but the rest of the game belonged to Sobers. He made a 15-footer and, after Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook tied the score at 91 with 38 seocnds left, made one of two free throws after being fouled by James Worthy.
Johnson scored on a drive, but with nine seconds left Sobers put the Bullets back on top, 94-93, with a 17-footer after he eluded Michael Cooper.
The Lakers called their last timeout and got the ball into Johnson. But as Abdul-Jabbar set a screen on Collins and Johnson drove to his right to the basket, Mahorn dropped back into the lane between Johnson and the basket and forced the bad shot.
"It's an automatic defensive play," said Mahorn. "When D.C. got picked, I just showed. I tried to cut of the baseline and make him take the jumper."
When Mahorn unexpectedly appeared, Johnson, who already had committed himself, just threw the ball toward the basket, hoping for the foul call that he didn't get.