When it was over and the Washington Bullets had tied an NBA record for futility by scoring just 25 points in the second half last night, it was left to Knicks forward Pat Cummings to sum up New York's 100-93 victory.
"There's no science to it," he said. "Just get the ball in the paint."
His statement probably was the most accurate explanation of why the Knicks, by controlling the area inside the lane, won Patrick Ewing's homecoming at Capital Centre before 11,341. Cummings scored 26 points and Ewing, beset by foul trouble most of the game, had 21.
While Ewing and Cummings were pounding away inside, Washington again was at the mercy of its inconsistent jump shooters. The Bullets had 68 points at halftime on 64 percent shooting. In the second half, they made 11 of 45 shots (24 percent), including only two of their first 19.
The 25 second-half points were a low for the franchise and tied a league futility record for the second half last reached by the Golden State Warriors in 1978. The all-time NBA record low for a half was 20, by the New Orleans Jazz against Seattle on Jan. 4, 1975.
"Nothing happened in the second half, believe me, nothing," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "We ran the same plays, took the same shots . . . I wasn't deceived by the 68 points . . . When I see 68 (at halftime), I don't say, 'Oh, this is the night. We're going to score 110.' I say, 'When the game's over, we'll be truly lucky to have 100.' "
The Bullets are 2-3 since starting center Jeff Ruland suffered a chip fracture in his right ankle Dec. 11 and have averaged only 93 points per game in losing three of the last four. In those three losses, all at home, the Bullets had leads of nine, three and 13 at halftime, respectively.
Washington led by 14 points early in the third quarter last night as Ewing got his fourth foul and went to the bench. Then, the Knicks scored 16 straight points to take a 75-73 lead as the Bullets again showed why Ruland is so important to their team.
Knicks Coach Hubie Brown was ecstatic about his team's defense in the second half, but guard Rory Sparrow was more realistic: "Our defense was part of the reason, but they just missed everything."
Jeff Malone led the Bullets with 27 points and Cliff Robinson had 25. In the second half, they had 18 points but made only eight of 25 shots, and the rest of the team scored only seven points, making three of 19 shots.
"It was terrible," said Malone. "It was basically the same shots. I don't understand it. We didn't really shut them down. We didn't have any defensive intensity tonight, and it hurt us."
The Knicks shot 50.6 percent. In the first four games with 7-foot-7 rookie Manute Bol starting in place of Ruland, the opposition field-goal percentage was 41.7.
In rallying, New York used the Bullets' 1-3-1 trapping defense to its advantage. Once the Knicks beat the trap near midcourt, they had a four-on-three advantage, and Cummings and Louie Orr kept making power moves to the basket.
The Knicks took the lead for good, 86-83, on Ernie Grunfeld's three-point field goal early in the fourth quarter. They expanded the lead to 90-85 on successive baskets by Gerald Wilkins.
Four times the Bullets closed to within three points, but each time the Knicks countered, including offensive-rebound baskets by Ewing and Cummings. Then, Ewing's two free throws clinched it with 2:01 to play.
"The only thing strange is that they booed me," said Ewing about his return to Capital Centre. He proved too much in the early going for Bol.
"I've been feeling extra pressure," Ewing said. "I just wanted to come out and play hard."
Indeed, he did, using his power game with great effectiveness against Bol in the opening minutes. Bol had two early fouls, and Shue used reserve Tom McMillen most of the half. Ewing had 13 points in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game.
The Bullets simply couldn't get the ball inside with any consistency. Bol didn't get a shot the entire game, and starting forward Dan Roundfield scored only two points in 22 minutes.
"I hate to keep repeating myself, but I have to," Shue said. "With Ruland out, we just don't have enough people we can go to. Of all our players, he was the one we could least afford to lose."
Shue said the Knicks' style of play precludes getting Bol in the offense until he gets stronger.
"We put in a couple of lob plays for him and it has worked against several teams," Shue said. "If the guard back there picks him, though, it just isn't there. But believe me, Manute isn't the problem.
"He has absolutely nothing to do with it. With Jeff out, the other players have to raise their level of offense. They just haven't done that consistently. Right now, in our situation, we are a jump-shooting team who is not shooting the ball well. You figure it out." Cavaliers 119, Mavericks 105
In Richfield, Ohio, World B. Free scored 32 points and Roy Hinson had a season-high 26 to help Cleveland win at home. Dallas has lost seven of its last 10 games.
Dallas got 17 points from rookie Detlef Schrempf and 14 each from Dale Ellis and rookie Uwe Blab. The Mavericks played without leading scorer Mark Aguirre, who was suspended Thursday after arguing with Coach Dick Motta. Trail Blazers 121, Nuggets 114
Kiki Vandeweghe matched his season high with 35 points and Portland outrebounded Denver, 49-29, to win at home.
Mike Evans led the Nuggets with 28 points, Wayne Cooper had 25 and Alex English 24. Clyde Drexler had 18 points for the Trail Blazers and Sam Bowie had a season-high 15 rebounds.