The Philadelphia 76ers made their point.
They beat the Washington Bullets at their own game last night, a slow-paced, physical game, 95-86, before a sellout crowd of 19,035 at Capital Centre.
There wasn't much magic from Doctor J and very few picturesque fast breaks. Instead, the 76ers simply used their superior depth to win for the 52d time in 61 games this season.
The Bullets (28-33) had their three-game winning streak ended. After victories by both Atlanta and New York last night, they fell 3 1/2 games behind in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Moses Malone scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the 76ers led most of the game but couldn't put away the Bullets until the final minutes.
They led by only three points after a short jump shot by Rick Mahorn with 2:30 to play. But the Bullets failed to score on their next five possessions and the 76ers scored nine points points, eight of them by Malone, to secure the victory.
Four other 76ers also scored in double figures.
Malone, the National Basketball Association's leading rebounder with a 15.7 average going into the game, had a season-low four rebounds, as Jeff Ruland and Mahorn did a good job of keeping him away from the boards. The 76ers also came into the game shooting 51 percent from the field, but made only 40 percent of their shots. Julius Erving was three for 12 and Andrew Toney six for 18. The Bullets shot 39 percent.
The 95 points were a season low for the 76ers.
"I'd have to think (Bullet Coach) Gene Shue is happy with the amount of points we scored," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham. "They controlled the tempo, but we did the job defensively. They have the people to make you play their style, and we have to be able to adjust to that."
The Bullets played without forward Greg Ballard, who missed only his fourth game in five seasons. He had a sore back.
Point guard Frank Johnson, who missed the last game with a jammed toe, played as a reserve last night and missed all five of his shots.
Ricky Sobers was high scorer for the Bullets with 21 points and also had seven assists. But with Ballard not in uniform and Johnson slowed by his injury, the Bullets didn't have the depth to stay with the 76ers.
Things grew worse when they got into foul trouble. Jeff Ruland, who had 16 points and eight rebounds, fouled out with 2:51 left and the Bullets trailing, 86-83.
The Bullets' bench scored only 12 points and had eight rebounds; the 76ers got 31 points and 24 rebounds from their bench. Guard Clint Richardson had 12 points and eight rebounds.
"We played exactly the way we wanted to play," said Shue. "We had the right pace for us to have a chance to win, but we had a lot of mistakes. They weren't necessarily forced by pressure, either, but were from carelessness. We played a good game, but we had too many careless errors; we got into foul trouble and Greg Ballard didn't play. That was the story."
The Bullets led, 14-12, with 5:14 left in the first quarter, but didn't score another point the rest of the period as the 76ers ended it with a 10-0 run. Toney had six of those points.
On their last 10 possessions of the quarter, the Bullets committed six turnovers and missed six shots and two free throws.
They made up most of the deficit in the first two minutes of the second quarter, though, with an 8-2 spurt, four of the points by Ruland. They could never overtake the 76ers in the period, however, and trailed, 44-42, at halftime.
The Bullets almost had a one-point lead at halftime, but Sobers' three-point shot was disallowed by official Hugh Evans, who said it came after the buzzer.
The score was tied five times and the lead changed three times in the third quarter, but the 76ers took the lead for good when Clemon Johnson made two free throws after he was fouled by Ruland. Then, after Maurice Cheeks stole the ball from Carlos Terry, Johnson scored on a layup for a 61-57 advantage.
The teams will play again tonight at the Spectrum.
"We're definitely going with the same game plan," said Shue. "It's the best one we have."