The Washington Bullets accomplished all their objectives against the Los Angeles Lakers last night except the most important one: They couldn't score when the game was on the line.
The Lakers scored less than 100 points for the first time in 83 games, but the defending National Basketball Association champions won, 96-84, holding the Bullets to 35 points in the second half and three baskets in the final seven minutes before a capacity crowd of 19,123 at Capital Centre.
In the end, 38-year-old Kareem Andul-Jabbar was the difference, scoring 29 points for the Lakers (24-3) in his first matchup with Manute Bol, the Bullets' 7-foot-7 rookie. "He's automatic points when they needed it," said Jeff Malone, who led the Bullets with 27 points.
Bol, who faces 7-foot rookie Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks in a 6 p.m. game today at Capital Centre, played well, blocking eight shots and getting seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
He even blocked a dunk by Abdul-Jabbar. "I felt sorry for myself," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I don't know which is worse, getting my ribs beat on (by Jeff Ruland) or getting my shot blocked."
"Basically, we had the Lakers where we wanted them," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "Everything we wanted to do defensively, we did. We didn't win because our offense wasn't there."
The Bullets have been without starting center Ruland for four games now, since he suffered a chip fracture of his right ankle. They are 2-2, and the opposition collectively is shooting only 41.7 percent in the span. The Lakers, who came into last night's game with the NBA's best field-goal percentage, shot just 45.7.
"I hate to keep repeating myself," Shue said. "But it's very hard for us to score right now. With Ruland out of the lineup, we lack the post-up player that we need. You really have to go to someone down low."
Without Ruland, the Bullets' offense mainly was reduced to Jeff Malone (27 points) taking long jump shots. Lakers Coach Pat Riley tinkered with his team's defense, finally jump-switching to stop Malone and backing off Frank Johnson or Gus Williams to double team Cliff Robinson (18 points, 15 rebounds).
"The last two periods was as good a defensive effort as we've had all year," Riley said.
It was 82-80 when the Lakers started to open it up. Maurice Lucas (14 points) hit a 15-foot jumper, and both Malone and Johnson missed 22-foot jumpers for the Bullets on their next possession. James Worthy scored for the Lakers on a spinning baseline move and it was 86-80 with 4:24 to play.
Bol scored one of his two baskets in the game to make it 86-82. But, when the Lakers needed a basket for sure, they went to Abdul-Jabbar, who took a pass from Magic Johnson, used his left hand to keep Bol away and flipped in a sky hook for an 88-82 lead.
"He was tough," said Bol, who keeps a picture of Abdul-Jabbar in his wallet. "When you play against Kareem, it's something."
Malone cut the deficit to 88-84 when he followed up on his missed long jumper. But Worthy took a pass from Abdul-Jabbar and dunked the ball for a 90-84 Lakers lead with 3:02 to go. On the Bullets' next two possessions, Malone and Ken Green (13 points, all but two in the first half) missed jump shots, and a lefthanded hook by Abdul-Jabbar clinched the victory, making it 92-84 with 1:56 to play.
The presence of Bol enabled the Bullets to play Abdul-Jabbar heads up, instead of double- and triple-teaming him as they have done in the past. "I think players are conscious of him," Riley said. "I showed them a clip before the game I probably shouldn't have of him blocking about eight shots in a row against Cleveland."
But the Lakers are one team against whom the Bullets needed to play offense five on five, instead of four on five as it is with Bol. "They run a four-man offense," Riley said. "They put him out on the parking lot . . . "
"It hurts the team," said Abdul-Jabbar. "You can't be that much of a specialist."
But Shue says there are no quick fixes for the Washington offense.
"We have to consistently make jump shots," he said. "And we're not a great jump-shooting team. It's hard to work it out. As coaches, we try to take advantage of every situation that we can."