Tonight was breaking night here at the Omni. Sponsored by a local radio station, 17 dance groups of various shapes and sizes competed during timeouts and at halftime.
None of the groups broke as well or as often as the Hawks. Catching the Washington Bullets playing their fourth game in five nights, Atlanta was able to boogie wherever it wanted, cruising to an easy 127-107 decision.
The Hawks main flashdancers were Dominique Wilkins and Glenn Rivers. In the continuation of a preseason experiment, Wilkins started his second consecutive game at guard and scored 22 points, one fewer than Rivers' career-high 23. The Bullets were led by Greg Ballard with 27 points. Jeff Ruland, in foul trouble most of the game, finished with 20.
"There were a lot of defensive breakdowns tonight," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "When that happens we're as porous as hell."
That porousness manifested itself in a number of ways. The Hawks shot 50 percent from the field, with seven players scoring at least 12 points. Many of those baskets came on fast-break layups or offensive rebounds, of which the Hawks had 20. In outrebounding the Bullets, 52-43, Atlanta also managed to take seven more shots.
The Bullets started the game retreating on defense. After Rick Mahorn opened the scoring with a jump shot 13 seconds into the game, Washington didn't score again until three minutes and 46 seconds later. By that time, the Hawks had run off 16 points. Even though Washington outscored Atlanta, 25-19, for the remainder of the period, the Hawks still led, 35-27.
Atlanta continued to put the pressure on the Bullets, scoring the first nine points of the second quarter. But with the score 50-35 in favor of the Hawks, the visitors began a run of their own, scoring 11 consecutive points to close to 50-46.
A key in the move was the tandem of Gus Williams and Frank Johnson at guard. Although confronted with a defensive matchup problem -- the 6-foot-2 Williams guarding Wilkins, who is 6-7 -- the pair's quickness enabled them to control the pace. During their 11-point run, Johnson scored seven points, and Williams had four assists and two steals.
Unfortunately for the Bullets, they couldn't maintain that pace. Entering the third quarter down, 66-57, the Bullets watched almost helplessly as Atlanta went on a 19-6 tear to take control of the game. The Bullets would come no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
"We get in a hole and come back and play good ball," said Ruland. "Then the other team starts up again and we come back again but can't keep it going. It's like a revolving door."
According to Shue, it's time for the door to stop spinning, one way or another. "For the time being I think you'll see much more control on our part offensively," said Shue. "We'll try and get the cheap basket whenever we can but right now our team speed just isn't there."
And until they find it, it's likely that other opponents will leave the Bullets dancing in the dark.
Bullets forward Cliff Robinson missed his second consecutive game due to a death in the family. "He would've made a big difference tonight," said Ballard.
Although the Hawks' public address announcer said prior to the game's start that Johnson was on the Bullets' injured list, he played 32 minutes and scored 19 points on a strained right hamstring, although "every time I got hit on it, it felt like a setback." Frank's brother Eddie scored 12 for the Hawks.
Atlanta General Manager Stan Kasten, citing the Bullets' recent schedule, said, "I don't ever want to play them when they're fresh . . . I don't ever want to play them ever."
Ruland appeared to go after referee Hue Hollins after picking up his fourth foul of the game with 4:54 to play in the third period but was quickly restrained by teammate Darren Daye. Said Ruland, "I think I deserve a little respect. I've been in the league four years but they let a rookie (Atlanta's Kevin Willis) come in and elbow and push his way around."