There had to be a reason for the 17,781 people in attendance at Capital Centre yesterday for the Washington Bullets' 112-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
But whether it was the basketballs that were given away or the anticipation (which was unfulfilled) of a rematch of last week's brawl between the Bullets' Manute Bol and Chicago's Jawann Oldham, what they got was something relatively common: guard Jeff Malone scoring basket after basket.
Making 15 of 21 shots from the field, he tied his career high of 40 points in leading the Bullets to a victory that evened their record at 21-21.
Coach Stan Albeck of the Bulls lamented: "We had four guys on him: (guards) Kyle Macy and Quintin Dailey and (forwards) Orlando Woolridge and Gene Banks. I don't think he even noticed the difference. He was oblivious to everything but the ball going in the basket."
Sixteen of his points came in the third quarter and helped keep the visitors at bay. The Bullets had led by 70-56 early in the period, but, when the Bulls scored nine straight points, most of the lead evaporated, fostering a sense of uneasiness among the gathering. However, Malone scored 10 of the Bullets' next 18 points to help reestablish control.
"I saw the whole game as a struggle," Coach Gene Shue of the Bullets said. "I never thought the lead was secure. They were pressuring and trapping, doing a good job, and we didn't really have any shooters in the game.
"Thank God Malone was tough today. He was carrying our offense. Once a player gets it going like that, he'll get the ball a lot by design."
Given his shooting, Malone said he ensured the continuation of his good fortune by calling plays for himself when Shue didn't.
"If you're feeling good, you don't want to get out of that groove," he said. "From time to time, I've felt that way, hit three or four in a row and then not touched the ball for a while. But when you're hot you have to keep shooting until you miss."
There weren't very many of those for Washington, which shot 56 percent for the game, 11 percent higher than its season norm. Apart from Bol, who made two of six and Leon Wood, who missed his eight shots, no one on the team hit less than half his shots.
Speaking of hits, the extent of physicalness between Bol and Oldham consisted of a brush of sorts between hands at the opening tipoff.
"I said hello before the game and I shook his hand," said Bol. "He shook my hand and that was it. He didn't say a lot of words."
After the game, Bol was more concerned about the fact that he was tied with teammate Charles Jones for high honors in blocked shots with six each. The Bullets blocked 14 for the game. "That's the story," Bol joked. "C.J. is catching me."
Of course, blocked shots are nothing uncommon for Washington. But neither are injuries, and yesterday there was another with which to contend. Forwards Cliff Robinson and Tom McMillen had returned to the lineup after missing a game with flu, but the latter was hurt six minutes before this game ended.
McMillen's injury was initially diagnosed as an injury to a tendon in his right foot and was serious enough to necessitate crutches when he left the building.
"The players have just been incredible through all this," Shue said. "To be at .500 again is just remarkable. If someone had told me that we'd be 10-10 after losing (center Jeff) Ruland and then Frank Johnson, I'd have said, 'Yeah, sure, we'll be 10-10.' "
One potential positive offshoot of the injuries has been the emergence of an overall offensive game led by Malone, a three-year veteran. Already "one of the best rhythm shooters in the league," according to Albeck, Malone has started to score in open-court situations, without picks.
On one of his baskets, he spun around Chicago's George Gervin and lofted a shot over Oldham that banked off the glass and into the hoop.
"If you don't use something you'll lose it," Malone said. "I'm working more on things like that and getting better at it. Before, Gene might not have had the confidence in me to let me go one on one, but I think I'm showing him that I can."
Allowing Malone to go one on one would seem to be a prudent move by the coach. Chances are, when he's shooting well, Malone would just take it upon himself to do it anyway.
The Bullets signed forward Claude Gregory to a 10-day contract. A 1981 graduate of Wisconsin, he was the Bullets' second-round draft choice in 1981. Previously this year he played for the Evansville Thunder of the Continental Basketball Association. He is a graduate of Coolidge High School in the District.