On the way to Boston Garden for tonight's game against the Celtics, the Washington Bullets' coaching staff was engaged in a little game: trying to name the NBA teams that have beaten Boston, the league's pace-setter.
The question, and its answer -- New Jersey, Indiana, Portland, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Detroit -- might have been great if a group of friends were gathered for a trivia contest, but it wasn't for the Bullets, who later failed to add their name to the list and lost, 103-88.
It was the 13th straight victory for the Celtics, who improved their record to 38-8 before 14,890 -- the 244th consecutive sellout at the Garden. There were any number of players at the forefront of what also was Boston's 13th consecutive home victory.
Forward Larry Bird led all scorers with 26 points and had 16 rebounds and six assists. Center Robert Parish had 25 points. Bill Walton, the Celtics' back-up center, came through with 13 points and 17 rebounds. The Bullets, 23-25 and losers of four straight, were paced by guard Jeff Malone's 21 points.
It has been almost two months -- Dec. 6 -- since Boston suffered its only home loss in 23 games this season, 121-103, to the Portland Trail Blazers. For a time, the Bullets made a concerted bid to give Boston another.
Minus center/forward Jeff Ruland, who stayed home with a tender right ankle, Washington tried to win the game via clear-outs and one-on-one isolations.
The ploy worked for the better part of three quarters; forward Cliff Robinson, working against Parish, quickly scored seven points and got two assists before getting into foul trouble trying to cover Bird.
At halftime, the Celtics were clinging to a 49-48 lead. Even with 2:46 to play in the third quarter, the score was just 68-66, Boston, as the Bullets continued to accomplish some of the things they must to have a reasonable chance at victory.
The Bullets weren't turning the ball over (13 for the game) and played strong individual defense.
Usually, defenders strive to help each other out, but against the Celtics that's almost suicidal. If Bird and Walton don't beat you with passes to open men, they'll invariably take advantage of the subsequent mismatches that frequent switching presents.
In the end, though, the Bullets were victimized by their inability to put the ball in the basket.
For the game, they shot only 41 percent from the field, continuing a string of inaccuracy that matches their current losing streak.
"Our shooting just -- isn't good," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "That compounds all the problems we're currently having. I don't know the last time we shot 50 percent. With all the injuries we have, we just can't win shooting 35 or 40 percent."
The last time the Bullets converted half their shots was in their last victory, Jan. 25 against Atlanta.
Tonight, anything close to that might have led to an upset. From that two-point deficit late in the third quarter, Washington hit but a third of its field goal attempts, a major factor as Boston went on a 13-2 run to move in front by 81-68 with 10:26 to play.
"We were playing well, then we didn't get back on defense a few times and got into trouble," said Malone. "By the end of the game, we weren't doing any of the things we were told to do."
That became apparent over the next six minutes. Five times the Bullets cut the margin to nine points, five times Boston responded with a basket.
Some of the scores were a joy to watch. A basket by Robinson with 4:43 to play was matched 14 seconds later by Parish's stuff after a blind touch pass from Bird. Malone hit a jumper 17 seconds after that. As the ball came out of the net, Bird grabbed it and threw a touchdown pass to a streaking Parish for another dunk.
"Playing here is more fun than I ever thought it would be," said Walton, who has begun a strong bid for NBA comeback player of the year. "You can't just play hard against the good teams, you have to play against everyone. We just have lots of confidence that we're gonna go out and win every night." 76ers 142, Nets 107
Philadelphia ended a three-game losing streak by scoring the most points and compiling the largest margin of victory allowed by visiting New Jersey this season.
"There's no way you can look at that score and find anything good about the way we played tonight," Nets Coach Dave Wohl said, "except maybe the fact that they didn't shut us out.
The 76ers' biggest contributors were Moses Malone (29 points, 17 rebounds) and Julius Erving (28 points). Mickey Johnson's 18 points and 10 rebounds led the Nets.
Philadelphia ran away from the Nets in the first period, scoring 42 points and making 16 of 19 shots from the floor for a 24-point lead.
The 76ers took a 21-8 lead halfway through the period and increased it to 40-14 with 1:04 left.
The 42 points and the 84.2 shooting percentage were both team-highs this season for Philadelphia. Erving had 12 points and Malone nine in the quarter.
"Philadelphia came out with a lot of intensity and a lot of hustle," said New Jersey's Otis Birdsong, "and we didn't do very much about it."
Philadelphia led by 71-52 at halftime. The 71 points were Philadelphia's highest halftime total of the season.
The 76ers led by 106-75 at the end of the third period and took their largest lead, 127-86, with 4:50 remaining.
Charles Barkley scored 19 points and Sedale Threatt and Maurice Cheeks had 14 each for Philadelphia. New Jersey got 12 points apiece from Birdsong and Buck Williams.
"I'm glad the All-Star game is here," said Wohl, whose Nets have lost nine of their last 14 games. "We need a break, if only to get the guys away from basketball for awhile.
"I'm not particularly happy with the job I've done or the job they've done.