When Mike Evans of the Denver Nuggets says he's got nothing personal against the Washington Bullets, it's kind of hard to believe him.
On Jan. 18, the substitute guard scored on a last-second shot to beat Washington. Last night at Capital Centre, he made a three-point bomb to give the Nuggets a 90-87 lead at the end of the third period. Denver was never headed from that point, taking a 124-111 victory before 5,048.
All-Star forwards Alex English and Calvin Natt led Denver with 22 and 21 points, respectively, but it was Evans, with 18 points, who did the most damage.
The six-year veteran from Kansas State connected on eight of 10 shots from the floor, including a pair of three-pointers. In the second half, Evans hit five of six field goal attempts.
The first was the three-pointer that ended the third quarter. The others were just as important, two coming after the Bullets had cut a seven-point Denver lead to three midway through the final period. After Evans' shots, however, the margin had been increased to nine, 110-101, and the visitors cruised from there.
"Evans always hurts us. I thought his play was one of the big keys to the game," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue, who added that a bigger factor was his team's lackadaisical play. "We just weren't right. Most of the time this season we're very intense, but that wasn't there tonight. We were a step off all evening."
For a time, it seemed Washington (30-29) would overcome its ennui and come away with a win. The team played well enough to stay close to Denver, trailing, 62-58, at halftime.
Denver scored the first two points of the third period before the Bullets went on a 20-8 run to take a 78-72 lead with 4:06 remaining in the quarter.
"There were a couple of spurts where we weren't good and they were great," said Denver Coach Doug Moe. "We were up six and all of a sudden we were down six. But we started our comeback then and from there we had it (control of the game)."
The Nuggets came back to tie at 82 and the game seesawed back and forth until Evans hit his three-point goal with four seconds left in the period.
Even then, Washington showed signs of shaking off its sluggishness. The Bullets' best opportunity came with about eight minutes to play in the game. Following a missed shot, Darren Daye kept alive an offensive rebound, the ball eventually going to Jeff Malone, who missed. Daye once again got the ball. After a third miss, Charles Jones got another offensive board. Soon the ball came back to Malone, who scored two of his game-high 30 points to pull the Bullets to within three at 100-97.
Malone also scored the next two baskets for Washington. Unfortunately for the team, the second came with 3:37 to play and provided the only Bullets points in a 14-2 Denver run as the Midwest Division leaders pulled away. In the final 12 minutes, Denver (38-21) shot 64 percent to 37 percent for Washington.
"We were just very flat tonight and I couldn't say why, but you can't be that way against Denver, the way they pass and move so much," said Bullets forward Cliff Robinson (16 points, 12 rebounds). "Gene was trying to motivate us and we'd go on a spurt, then they would break it. It would come back for maybe two or three plays but that wasn't enough."
Basketball is a game of spurts for substitutes like Evans, especially on high-powered teams like the Nuggets. "When people like English and Natt are going well they have to get the ball," he said. "Everyone else has to take what's left.
"Tonight they weren't going as well so it was up to me to help pick up the slack. Whenever you get into a game you try to make something happen, hopefully something positive, but I don't have anything against Washington," he said.
With a smile.
Before the game, the Bullets signed Jones to a second 10-day contract. When that one expires March 9, the team must either release Jones or sign him for the remainder of the season. Last night, Jones played 15 minutes and had seven points, four rebounds and three blocked shots.