Pulling a 180-degree turnaround from last week's loss in Chicago, the Washington Bullets controlled the action last night at Capital Centre and took a 119-112 decision over the Bulls before a crowd of 11,262.
When they lost, 104-99, to Chicago March 5, the Bullets shot 65 percent from the field in the first half but scored only 35 points the rest of the game. This time, the Bullets -- once again shooting better than 60 percent from the field -- were in front at intermission, 65-59. But instead of faltering after the break, they came on strong again, going on a 9-0 run midway through the third period to take control.
As has been the case for the last week, Washington was led by Jeff Malone. He scored 37 points, 32 coming on a career-high 16 field goals. Averaging almost 26 points a game in the last nine games, the second-year guard has needed little excuse for coming up with special efforts. The presence of Chicago's first-year player extraordinaire, Michael Jordan, though, did provide a bit more incentive.
It manifested itself not only on the scoreboard, but at the other end of the floor. Jordan, who has yet to score fewer than 10 points in an NBA game, had 21 but played only the first 1:16 of the final quarter before being given the rest of the night off by Coach Kevin Loughery.
"Jeff is really doing it, playing great at both ends," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said. "It's great when you can get a scorer to play good defense, too, and that's what Jeff is doing. The defense makes you appreciate him, but it's still good to see those jumpers falling."
Washington made up for being outrebounded, 45-32, by completing the game with a 57 percent mark from the field, the result of those jumpers as well as some strong inside work. Rick Mahorn, troubled by a bad cold, played only 17 minutes -- four in the first half -- but Cliff Robinson scored 20 points, many from close to the basket, and substitute forwards Darren Daye and Tom McMillen provided 14 and 12, respectively.
Many of those scores were the result of the largesse of Gus Williams. Eschewing the perimeter jumper for much of the night, he penetrated the defense and dealt off the basketball to open teammates. For the night, he had 12 assists and 22 points.
"Gus' taking the ball to the basket is so important for us," Shue said. "If the jumper isn't falling, he's capable of doing other things. That's what we need him to continue doing."
In that key 9-0 third-period run, he assisted on a basket by Malone, then scored five of the next seven points, putting the Bullets' lead at 80-70. From there, the Bulls fell behind by 17 points before a meaningless rally in the final moments of the game.
Those moments also seemed to be meaningless for many of the people who attended in hopes of witnessing another Jordan high-wire act. At one point late in the game, a none-too-organized chant of "We Want Jor-Dan" arose from the stands.
Loughery, however, wasn't budging.
"The game got to the point where it was an unbelievable long shot for us to win," he said of his team, which is in the midst of a stretch of nine games in 14 days. "It was a chance to give Michael a rest and some playing time for some others."
Jordan said he wasn't about to second-guess his coach's decision but seemed fairly upset bout his extended time on the bench.
"I'm just a competitor; I want to fight until the last second has run off the clock," he said. "I'd rather be out on the floor playing than on the bench cheering, but while I was sitting I did that too."
"He's just a great player but you have to make him work for what he gets," Malone said. "If you play good defense on a player, you feel good, but you want to go back on the other end and get two, you can't let him rest at the other end."
There was little of that for the weary Jordan.
"The way their offense is set up, he was getting good picks and was coming off of them ready to shoot," Jordan said. "Our offense isn't set up that way; we do things differently."
It was obvious this night that Malone's, and the Bullets', way was the best way.