The scoreboard at Lakefront Arena here at the University of New Orleans categorizes the competing teams as "N. Orleans" and "Guests." Neither slot allows for professional names, which was more than fitting tonight because the contest between the Washington Bullets and Atlanta Hawks was far from a professionally played game. The Hawks won, 103-97.
Beginning with a crowd that was announced at 2,125 but more likely was under 500, the game featured miscue after miscue. After committing most of the miscues during the first three periods, the Bullets came back with a furious fourth-quarter rally that fell just short.
Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins was a thorn in the Bullets' side throughout the game. The forward, who has averaged 31 points in the team's 10 previous contests in New Orleans, scored 32 tonight, including nine of his team's final 13 points.
The Bullets were further hindered when Gus Williams had to come out of the game due to pain in his left foot. After playing 13 minutes of the first half, Williams was given the remainder of the night off by Coach Gene Shue.
"It looked like Gus was favoring the foot," Shue said. "I took him out once and he'd said he'd try to play on it but we kept him out."
Williams is listed as questionable for the Bullets' Wednesday night contest against the New York Knicks, a game in which the Bullets will be going for a sweep of the season series with Hubie Brown's club.
To do that, Washington will have to stretch their play in the final 12 minute of tonight's game out over the full 48 minutes. "We were just very laid back tonight while they were aggressive," said Jeff Malone. "They were getting steals and we weren't crating anything."
As did his teammates, Malone rebounded from a poor first half. Just two for eight from the field in the first 24 minutes, the sharpshooting guard finished the contest with 24 points to lead the Bullets (34-34), who failed in an attempt to match their victory total of the 1983-84 season.
The team also got strong play from Cliff Robinson and Dudley Bradley. Robinson, the only good thing the Bullets had going in the early portion of the game, finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Bradley's final statistics showed just 10 points and five rebounds, but with his aggressive ball hawking and hustle, he was in the forefront of the Bullets' comeback from a 22-point deficit.
"I was probably a little more aggressive tonight than usual," said Bradley. "Going into the game down like we were is probably one of the easiest situations for a player because you really can't do anything wrong. You just try and make something happen."
Making things happen was one edge the Hawks held throughout the game. "I really thought that Atlanta played terrific, they played hard and took us out of everything," said Shue in explaining his team's maladies. "We were struggling on offense so we went with defense for the most part and that helped us come back."
That comeback was complete when, with 3:01 to play, Malone, who five seconds earlier missed a technical foul shot, hit a pair to give Washington a 91-90 lead. In the process, the Bullets drew the few fans present onto their side. During one timeout during the comeback, an announcement over the public address system that the Hawks had just one more game to play here drew what had to pass for thunderous applause.
Following Malone's shots, Wilkins converted a three-point play to give Atlanta a 93-91 edge with 2:42 remaining.
After the play the Bullets called time out and following the break Bradley was fouled by Wilkins while attempting a layup. His free throws tied the score and a short time later the Bullets had a chance to regain the lead when Atlanta turned the ball over on a backcourt violation.
The opportunity was lost, though, when Tom McMillen threw a pass out of bounds at the 2:06 mark, Washington's 20th and final turnover of the game. Twelve seconds after the error, Wilkins scored again to give the Hawks the lead for good.
"That was the bottom line, we got our heads in front then made some careless mistakes with the ball," said Shue.