The Washington Bullets began their three-game trip to points west with two members of the traveling party tantalizingly close to reaching career milestones. At the Sports Arena tonight, Gus Williams reached his, setting an NBA record for career steals.
However, Coach Gene Shue, with 699 career victories, didn't reach his as the Bullets fell to the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-103, for their third consecutive defeat.
Los Angeles, 12-14 and winner of four straight games, was led by Norm Nixon's 26 points.
Jeff Malone came off the bench to score 29 for Washington, now 14-10.
With 8:27 remaining in the third quarter, Williams stole a Derek Smith pass and fed Malone for a layup, giving Williams 1,404 career steals to break the record of Randy Smith.
Randy Smith, who played two seasons before the NBA began recording statistics in this category, took 818 games from 1973-81 to reach his mark, while Williams required only 657 regular-season games.
The Bullets entered the game in an angry mood and eager to atone for their horrendous play in Thursday night's 116-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Prior to tonight's game, the team went through an afternoon one-hour workout in the Sports Arena. This was in addition to a strenuous two-hour workout on Friday.
All the work was meant to erase the feeling that Washington, in the words of Bernie Bickerstaff, assistant coach, "didn't do anything but have a nice little scrimmage against Phoenix."
As in the game against the Suns, the Bullets were slow to get started. Jeff Ruland's follow-up basket with 9:33 remaining in the first period provided the Bullets with their first points.
When the Clippers' Junior Bridgeman scored 20 seconds later, Washington trailed, 8-2, and Shue called a timeout. When play resumed, Bridgeman scored his fourth basket after an aborted Washington fast break to put Los Angeles ahead, 10-2.
Greg Ballard made two free throws for the Bullets, and after a Clippers turnover, Cliff Robinson entered the lineup for Washington.
After Robinson connected on a three-point play with 6:51 to play, the Bullets trailed, 12-7. Twenty seconds later, Bridgeman scored again, followed by Derek Smith's basket to give the Clippers a 16-7 lead.
Robinson scored again for Washington but Smith countered with a three-point play as Shue replaced starting guards Williams and Dudley Bradley with Frank Johnson and Malone.
The pair immediately made their mark, Johnson feeding Malone for a jumper, but the Clippers kept control, moving out to a 25-15 lead on a pair of baskets by Norm Nixon.
After a score by Bill Walton, Washington used baskets by Ballard and Malone to cut the L.A. lead to 27-19 before the Clippers called time out with 2:01 to play in the period.
Bridgeman scored two more baskets, and the Clippers led after one period, 33-21. Bridgeman finished the period with 12 points and Smith had 11. The Clippers shot 73 percent; the Bullets shot 39 percent.
Early in the second quarter, consecutive baskets by Johnson, Ruland and Malone made it 37-29. After a basket by Nixon, Malone scored again for the Bullets, followed by Darren Daye's basket to cut the Clippers' lead to 39-33.
After a Los Angeles timeout, the Clippers scored four straight points before Ruland scored. A basket by former Bullet Bryan Warrick put Los Angeles ahead, 45-35.
The Clippers then got hot, building the lead to 62-47 at intermission. Smith led the Clippers with 16 points, six more than Malone scored for Washington. The Clippers made 30 of 41 shots in the first half.
In the second half, Malone and Bridgeman continued their sharp shooting. At the 6:03 mark of the third period, Malone missed his first free throw of the season after making 27 in a row. Shortly after, three straight baskets pushes the Clippers' lead to 76-60.
Ruland broke the streak with a three-point play at the 4:05 mark, but Nixon scored 36 seconds later, making it 78-63 and causing Washington to call a timeout.
With 55 seconds to play in the period, Robinson made his first appearance of the half for Washington. Going into the final quarter, Los Angeles led, 82-71.