The Washington Bullets were out of last night's key game against the New Jersey Nets almost before they knew what hit them.
The Nets, scoring on their first 12 possessions, came out aggressively, opening a 60-32 lead with 4:46 to play in the first half. The rest of the game was of little consequence, New Jersey winning, 130-102, before 4,201 at Capital Centre, many of whom booed early and often.
Guards Otis Birdsong of the Nets and Jeff Malone of the Bullets, who opposed each other most of the game, put this game into perspective with few words.
"It was almost a perfect half," said Birdsong, who led the Nets with 21 points, one more than Albert King and two more than Buck Williams.
"We were flat," said Malone, who scored 18 points on six-for-19 shooting. "The shots weren't dropping. We weren't rebounding. I can't tell you why. We just didn't play basketball tonight."
He forgot to mention the 16 first-half turnovers.
The Bullets had incentive to do well. A victory would have given them a virtual tie with the Nets for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, in the race to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks as a first-round playoff opponent.
Now the Bullets (32-36) are two games behind the Nets, with 14 to play. Of those, they play nine games against teams that are .500 or better, including the 76ers three times and division leaders Boston, Houston and Milwaukee (tonight's opponent at the Mecca, 8:30 p.m.) once each. Two of the four games with losing teams are against Indiana, whose record is 4-0 versus Washington this season.
Washington Coach Gene Shue credited the Nets: "They were very, very aggressive, much more aggressive than we were. The Jersey team wanted badly to win tonight. Our players were aware of the importance of the game. The Nets wanted it more."
New Jersey held a team meeting Thursday, and the Nets are 2-0 since then, after losing 20 of 31 games without Micheal Ray Richardson (suspended for alleged drug usage) as well as center Darryl Dawkins having missed 19 of the past 20 games with a groin injury.
Williams said the team meeting brought out "a lot of constructive feedback," and King, his one-time teammate at Maryland, said, "It seemed like it turned things around." Said Birdsong: "The most important thing was the unity we used to have wasn't there. We've always been a close-knit team. Everybody was going their own way. That's changed."
Washington probably could use center-forward Jeff Ruland more than a team meeting. He tested his strained left knee in yesterday's shoot-around and said he will practice with the team Thursday and hopes to play at Philadelphia Friday night.
The tone for last night's game was set early. After a short base-line jumper by Dan Roundfield (24 points, seven rebounds), the Nets scored on 12 straight possessions, starting with Birdsong's strong move past Malone to the basket for a layup.
By the time that streak was over, it was 24-10, with King having scored eight points, Williams six and center Mike Gminski six. The Nets missed only one shot during this span, and Williams converted his own miss for a basket on that one.
Meanwhile, the Bullets already had five turnovers, including passes by Roundfield and Williams that bounded off the rim.
"Our guys were ready tonight, believe me," Shue said. "The other team came in so aggressive they just took it. This is a pro league. There is a fine line between who comes out and is the aggressor. Tonight it wasn't even close. They just outhustled us in every phase."
The thing that impressed Washington guard Gus Williams, who played only nine minutes, none in the second half, was that the Nets found the right man continually. "It's tough to maintain that throughout the game, but tonight they did," he said. "It's the best I've seen them play overall."
The onslaught continued unabated. Thirty seconds into the second quarter, the Nets' lead was 41-19. Then they scored on seven straight possessions, including five fast breaks in a row, to lead, 60-32, with 4:46 left in the half.
Some significant numbers: At this stage, Buck Williams had 15 points and nine rebounds, as many as all of the Bullets, who had 13 turnovers at the time. The Nets had just two turnovers at that point in 42 possessions.
The halftime margin was 69-40, and Shue opened the second half with Dudley Bradley in for Gus Williams and Charles Jones in for Cliff Robinson, who had been averaging 20 points and almost nine rebounds in the last nine games. Last night, he had eight points and two rebounds.
"With a game like this," Shue said, "all you can do is try and forget and learn something from it. Now we just have to get ready for tomorrow's game." Pacers 112, Knicks 92
Herb Williams' career-high 40 points ruined the New York team's stay in Indianapolis. At 25-45, the Pacers are within two games of the eighth and last Eastern playoff spot. Hawks 106, Bulls 96
In Atlanta, Dominique Wilkins led a 13-0 rally in the third quarter that enabled the Hawks to beat Chicago despite a fourth-quarter rally led by Michael Jordan.
Wilkins scored 12 of his game-high 29 points in the third period. Jordan had 13 of his 17 points in the last period. 76ers 118, Cavaliers 112
In Richfield, Ohio, Sedale Threatt and Charles Barkley each scored 21 points to lead the overtime victory. Threatt scored the first three points of an 8-0 streak in overtime. Jazz 107, Pistons 106
Rickey Green's jump shot from the corner with 16 seconds left won the game in Salt Lake City.
He'd scored only five points until his shot more than offset Isiah Thomas' three-point play with 27 seconds left.