For more than one reason, the Washington Bullets were sporting a playoff look tonight at the Coliseum. In beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 128-114, the Bullets got a victory filled with contributions from everyone who played. At game's end, they received an added bonus -- the Atlanta Hawks' 113-97 triumph over the New Jersey Nets moved Washington into third place in the NBA's Atlantic Division.
The Bullets -- who have a three-game winning streak, with the second coming over the division-leading Boston Celtics -- dominated almost from start to finish, with guard Jeff Malone scoring 39 points on 16-for-24 shooting from the field. Six of the nine Bullets that played scored in double figures. Forward Cliff Robinson scored 21 with seven assists. Reserve Darren Daye scored 16, one more than guard Kevin McKenna, who hit three of six three-point field goal attempts. Forward Charles Jones made seven of eight shots en route to 15 points, including an attempted lob pass to Robinson that hit nothing but net.
That was the kind of night it was for Washington. "We always had them at a disadvantage, no matter what situation came up," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "We started out going into the post, then when they doubled-teamed we rotated the ball to open shooters. And we always had Malone. He was just fabulous tonight."
Malone's output was one reason the game's outcome seldom was in doubt. In fact, there were only two shaky moments for the Bullets. The first came in the second quarter when a Cavaliers run led by guard Eddie Johnson (team-high 25 points) put Cleveland in front by 45-39 with 6:41 left before intermission. By halftime, though, Washington was leading by 65-58 with Malone and McKenna combining for 19 of the team's last 26 points.
"It's been a long time since we've all shot that well," said Malone. "I felt really good in warmups before the game; then they started rotating their defense and double-teaming and I got some open shots and put some down."
McKenna was responding to heckling, from both the stands and the court. During a timeout shortly after making his first two shots, someone in the crowd of 10,707 asked the Continental Basketball Association pickup if the Bullets found him in a garbage pile. In response, McKenna mouthed the words: "Two for two."
After play resumed, he found himself in the corner with the ball and Cleveland center Melvin Turpin flying at him, daring him to shoot. McKenna complied, drilling a long jumper, then, for good measure, needling Turpin while heading back on defense.
"That's when you've gotta start talking, when they start mouthing at you," said McKenna.
Malone, who is past the point of having to prove himself, had 19 points at halftime, then got 12 on six-for-eight shooting in the third quarter, which ended with Washington ahead by 95-79. A short time later, Washington faced its second real test of the night. A layup by Turpin made the score 99-87 with 9:15 to play and prompted Shue to spend a timeout to lash into his team.
Seventeen seconds after play resumed, Daye drove around the Cavaliers' Keith Lee, making a basket and getting fouled. The free throw gave the Bullets a 15-point lead, which they increased to 19.
The play, with the 6-foot-8 Daye working out of an isolated set and blowing past 6-10 Lee, was indicative of Washington's almost flawless execution on offense.
Cleveland's World B. Free was left wondering why his opportunity to shoot had been curtailed. The NBA's 11th leading scorer entering the game, the guard had nine points, only the third time in 59 games that he finished with fewer than 10. Free didn't play in the fourth quarter, and after the game asked anyone within earshot: "I'm the team's leading scorer, why wasn't I out there?"
Answered Coach George Karl: "I wanted to try a quicker guard. I thought Ron Brewer would help us more defensively." Karl then stated the obvious:
"The game never got back in hand where I could put World back in." Hawks 113, Nets 97
Dominique Wilkins got 12 of his 35 points in the second period to help Atlanta win in East Rutherford, N.J. -- the Hawks' seventh straight win and 11th in 12 games. Pistons 111, Pacers 101
In Pontiac, Mich., Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas each scored 26 points to lead Detroit over Indiana. Detroit earned its 12th victory in 14 games. Indiana lost its fourth straight. 76ers 105, Knicks 95
Moses Malone had 28 points and 15 rebounds as Philadelphia gave visiting New York its fifth straight loss. New York has lost nine of its last 10 and nine in a row on the road. Kings 127, Mavericks 120
Reggie Theus made six free throws and a basket in overtime, lifting Sacramento to a victory in Dallas after the Mavericks had beaten the Kings eight straight times. Rolando Blackman's two free throws tied the score at 109 with 41 seconds left in regulation. Suns 127, Bucks 126
Walter Davis scored 12 of his 32 points in overtime, including a 15-foot jumper with seven seconds left to give Phoenix the victory, ending a seven-game home winning streak for Milwaukee. Warriors 118, Jazz 111
In Salt Lake City, Purvis Short scored 39 points, including 16 in the second period, as Golden State led from the start against Utah. Adrian Dantley led the Jazz with 30 points. Reserve Thurl Bailey had 26 points and 11 rebounds. Clippers 100, SuperSonics 96
Marques Johnson scored 23 points and rookie Benoit Benjamin scored five of his 19 points in the final two minutes to lead Los Angeles over visiting Seattle.