The Washington Bullets could well expect problems with their inside game, given the absence of injured center Jeff Ruland. However, last night against the Utah Jazz before 4,981 at Capital Centre, they discovered how unpalatable things could get when those problems are coupled with poor outside shooting.
Entering the second half with a 60-51 lead, the Bullets shot 27 percent in the third quarter, scoring just 13 points. Utah, meanwhile, was making 54 percent of its attempts and scoring 31 points. The swing was large enough for the Jazz to withstand a fourth-quarter rally by Washington and emerge with a 106-98 victory, breaking the Bullets' four-game winning streak and ending the team's string of consecutive home victories at nine.
Adrian Dantley, formerly of DeMatha High School, was the game's high scorer with 30 points for the Jazz, but the star of the evening was Karl Malone, his running mate at forward. The rookie from Louisiana Tech scored 25 points, 20 of them in the second half, and dominated the action around the basket with a number of thunderous dunks.
At least two of them were right in the face of the Bullets' Manute Bol. Bol scored 11 points and blocked six shots in the game but was hampered by foul trouble.
Utah took advantage of that in the late going, Dantley knifing through the lane for a pair of layups just after the Bullets had taken a 91-90 lead with less than six minutes to play. Bol, who had picked up his fifth personal foul with 7:45 remaining, was in the vicinity but couldn't risk fouling.
Washington Coach Gene Shue said he didn't feel that foul trouble (forwards Dan Roundfield and Charles Jones each picked up three early) hindered the Bullets as much as their third-quarter drought.
During the terrible 12 minutes, the Bullets made six of 22 field goal attempts. During one six-minute stretch they failed to score while the Jazz was registering 15 points.
"In warmups, I thought I was really going to be hot," said Jeff Malone, who was seven for 21. "Everything felt right during the game. It was just frustrating that it didn't fall. I guess that happens sometimes."
Said Shue: "We had a good offensive flow in the first half but we have to sustain it. Even though we didn't give up too many points, they may be too many for what we can produce (on offense). For us to do anything at all it has to be on defense."
Too many times, the Bullets (12-12) allowed guard John Stockton (12 assists) to send pinpoint passes to teammates for easy layups. There were a number of inside scores out of the Jazz's half-court offense as well, leading one of the Bullets to wonder if they were relying too much on Bol's spidery presence underneath.
"We really didn't get back on defense well," said guard Frank Johnson. "I think there's an assumption that Manute will get everything. We have to stop that and just go out and play."
Actually, it was Bol who triggered the Bullets' early fourth-period rally by rejecting a pair of shots by Utah's 7-foot-4 center, Mark Eaton. Both blocks were converted to scores by Washington and left Eaton with a dazed look upon his face.
"We were kidding Mark before the game that Bol was going to block some of his shots, but I don't think we were serious," said Karl Malone. "A lot of people laugh when they see him out on the floor but you have to take it to the basket strong on him. You can't lay it up because he'll block it."
Utah went ahead by 98-95 with a little more than two minutes to play when Karl Malone scored on a driving layup. Less than 30 seconds later he was dunking the ball after Stockton's steal to effectively put the game out of the Bullets' reach.
All of this following a first half in which Karl Malone was whistled for a technical foul for hurling the ball at referee Earl Strom after a call went against him. Seconds after the technical, Utah Coach Frank Layden pulled Malone from the game. When he returned, he vented his anger on the Bullets.
"I get real emotional because I want to play so hard," he said. "I have to learn to settle down and just play."
From Washington's perspective, he did it too well.