Until last night, the only routs the Washington Bullets have experienced in the past few months have been at their expense. Against New Jersey, it was a different story.
Experimenting with its lineup, Washington played textbook basketball in the middle periods and left the Nets gasping for breath in a 122-98 trouncing at Capital Centre.
In ending a three-game losing streak, the Bullets raised their record to 36-37. It was their biggest margin of victory since a 114-89 win over Indiana, Dec. 26. The Nets dropped to 36-38, one-half game behind Washington in their battle for third place in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. Washington, which plays next at Indiana Sunday night, has nine games remaining.
"We needed a game like this and we hope it carries over," said Bullets guard Jeff Malone, who had 22 of his game-high 25 points in the first half to help the Bullets to a 61-53 lead. "We played with a lot of intensity and got a great game from C.J. (Charles Jones). His defense and shot-blocking helped our offense."
Jones, the 6-foot-9 journeyman who apparently has found a home here, started in place of Greg Ballard. According to Coach Gene Shue, the move was designed to give the Bullets more rebounding and quickness up front (Jones) and provide instant offense from a reserve (Ballard).
The strategy worked well. Jones had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. What no one, expecially the Nets, expected was 13 points from Jones on six-for-six shooting.
"I know my role is to play defense, hit the boards and block shots. I'm sort of the clean-up man," said Jones. "It just worked out that I got some baskets. Maybe their scouting reports show I'm not a scorer and I was able to sneak in and get a few alley-oop baskets."
After a first period in which Washington took a 23-22 lead and had most of the crowd of 10,134 yawning in anticipation of the postgame concert featuring the Four Tops, Washington began getting its game together.
The Bullets shut down New Jersey's inside game (holding Darryl Dawkins to zero rebounds and five points and Buck Williams to two field goals) and began getting some transition baskets. Cliff Robinson (16 points) had a three-point play, Darren Daye (16 points, eight assists) scored on a follow-up shot and Malone had six straight points as Washington increased a three-point lead to 50-40 with 3:07 left.
Daye, Tom McMillen (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Ballard (15 points) all scored in the final minutes to keep the Bullets ahead, 61-53, at intermission.
The third period was all Washington. The Nets cut the deficit to six points, 67-61, after two free throws by Williams with 8:26 left.
But the Bullets then went on a tear, outscoring the Nets, 24-7, over a six-minute span. Jones began the surge with a free throw. McMillen sank back-to-back jumpers; Daye had two baskets; Gus Williams, suffering through a subpar shooting night (four of 12) had two steals for breakaways, and Jones scored off two perfect alley-oop passes.
"Jones really played well for us," Shue said. "We had been thinking about making a change and this was the perfect time to do it. Malone supplied the offense for us in the first half and Daye, McMillen and Ballard all played well coming off the bench. It was a combination of things coming together."
Washington dominated the backboards in the period while limiting the Nets, who still won the season series, 4-2, to two field goals in the final five minutes of the quarter.
Ballard's running bank shot just before the buzzer gave the Bullets a 93-73 lead going into the final 12 minutes.
"We were just steady all night," Shue said. "We like this big lineup and Jones will continue to start. Our offense isn't smooth yet and we have to be more productive down the stretch. We want this lineup to work."
It certainly did last night.