It's becoming increasingly obvious that if the Washington Bullets have had a problem of any sort over the past week, it has been the lack of a catchy name for their substitutes. The Detroit Pistons have the "A Team;" the first three men off the Los Angeles Lakers' bench help comprise the "Great Eight."
A novel tag would be nice, say the players, but Cliff Robinson, Darren Daye, et al. are hesitant to offend the starters, who have played in a manner befitting their status.
The end result of all this oneupmanship has been a five-game winning streak, the most recent a 118-104 victory over the New York Knicks last night at Capital Centre.
Was the victory a result of Gus Williams' 25-point, seven-assist night along with Jeff Ruland's triple double of 22 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists? Maybe, but how about the 14 points Robinson and Daye each scored in the first half to send the team along its merry way?
Bullets' Coach Gene Shue feels strongly both ways. "Cliff's coming off the bench and being spectaular, Gus is important in every aspect, we just played about as well as we could play," he said. Ruland had his own theory, "It's great playing just 35 minutes a night. I feel like a spring chicken."
The Bullets, whose last five-game winning streak came in March 1982, beat a team that's having trouble winning anywhere. The Knicks (2-9) have lost seven consecutive road games. "There's just nothing we can do about it, our worse enemy is ourselves," said Coach Hubie Brown.
Conversely, the Bullets have discovered the joy of teamwork. While Bernard King was the whole show for New York, scoring a game-high 34 points, five Bullets reached double figures.
In the first half, Washington's substitutes outscored the starters, 37-31, en route to a 68-56 lead. The Bullets were in control from the outset. Williams, shooting just 41 percent entering the game, was six of 11 from the field in the opening 12 minutes, scoring 14 points. Ruland passed off five of his assists.
King, who missed a game against Boston Wednesday night due to a sore right calf, scored nine of New York's 27 first-quarter points but that was almost matched by Daye, who had seven.
In the second quarter, the New Yorkers cut an 11-point deficit to five. Then, Robinson took over, making six consecutive shots, including a reverse dunk and a double-clutch layup.
"The first half of the game was just fabulous basketball," said Shue. "The Knicks played great but we had control of the game."
Throughout the win streak, the starters have played the third quarter as if they were afraid of being showed up by the subs. Of the Bullets' 27 third-period points, 21 came from the starting lineup, nine from Williams.
The quarter also saw the Knicks make a run, led by, who else, King. After Pat Cummings and Rory Sparrow hit on jump shots, King scored the Knicks' final 17 points of the period, just a point shy of the Capital Centre record.
With King setting the pace, New York made its final run early in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 straight points to make it 99-91 with 8:14 to play. Following a timeout, the Bullets regained control with an eight-point streak, then coasted.
Afterward, Jeff Malone (13 points) addressed the problem of the presently unnamed substitutes. "When we come in, things do tend to happen, don't they," he said. "I guess we really do have to come up with something."
Robinson didn't care to join the discussion. "Everybody's helping us do this," he said. "Ruland and (Rick) Mahorn make it easier for me to come off the bench. I see them out there and it gets me very pumped up."