ATLANTA, NOV. 6 -- When a team aspires to the NBA title, like this season's Atlanta Hawks, you don't have a regular season opener, you have an extravaganza, complete with tuxedoed employes, a marching drum corps, floodlights and balloon launchings.
Eventually however, you play basketball, and tonight the Hawks lived up to the advance buildup, cruising to a 114-97 victory over the Washington Bullets.
That leaves the Bullets to try again for their first victory of the season Saturday night against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics at Capital Centre. The game is a sellout.
An Omni near-capacity crowd of 16,064 cheered as forward Dominique Wilkins, the NBA's second-leading scorer last season, had 34 points and 14 rebounds. Washington was paced by Moses Malone's 32 points -- 20 from the free throw line -- and 12 rebounds.
In his regular season Bullets debut, starting forward Bernard King made three of 12 shots from the field, scoring nine points. Rookie point guard Tyrone Bogues had 10 points and six assists.
"It was my first game but that's no excuse, it was just an average effort for me," said Bogues, who made five of 12 shots, most of which were taken from the perimeter.
"I had the shots I wanted, they just didn't go in," added King. "There's not much I can do about that. I don't think I should quit taking them."
Washington's collective early shooting woes were just what the Hawks needed. Taking control almost from the start, Atlanta led by 30 points in the opening half.
For their part, the Bullets showed up resplendent in new red uniforms. Green might have been a better choice, reflecting the inexperience of a starting lineup playing together for the first time and a squad with four new players in all.
"We've got a lot of different people here, so we expected to have some trouble," said Coach Kevin Loughery.
The Hawks, on the other hand, have the exact same squad that won 57 games and the Central Division title last year. Five of those wins came against Washington, three of them at the Omni. In those games, the Bullets were beaten by an average score of 116-96. They improved on that by three points, but not until after a runaway Atlanta first half.
Atlanta hit 28 of its first 46 shots (61 percent) en route to a 73-45 halftime advantage. The Bullets, despite their new outfits and personnel, were repeating an old theme from a year ago: poor rebounding compounded by poorer shooting. In the first half, the visitors hit 16 of 49 field goal attempts (33 percent) and were outrebounded, 33-23.
And it didn't get much better. For the game, the Bullets shot 40 percent and were outrebounded, 58-35.
"You've got to play this team, make them play a half-court game," said Loughery. "You can't let them have easy baskets; but when you shoot the way we did, they'll get a lot of those."
Given the difference in experience between the teams, and the fact they were missing their tallest player and defensive stopper, 7-foot-6 Manute Bol (out with a strained left knee), the Bullets were already at a distinct disadvantage. Their malaise wasn't helped by a gamelong inability to hold on to the basketball.
Even when they did something right, it turned out wrong. On one first-half possession, guard Darrell Walker made an outstanding play, helping out defensively to block a shot by 7-foot forward Kevin Willis. Unfortunately for Washington, the ball wound up in the hands of Wilkins, who connected on a three-point field goal.
Such plays made the second half almost anticlimactic, although the Bullets were able to make things slightly interesting at times. With 10:42 to play, Moses Malone hit a pair of free throws to cut the Atlanta lead to 90-77. The Hawks came back with an 8-1 spurt to pull 20 ahead with 8:12 left.
"We got it down to 13 and if we could have cut through that we would have had a good chance to win," said King. "We just couldn't do it . . . It was a very difficult loss for us as a team, but I don't think you'll see that kind of performance tomorrow night."
"We played about as well as we could play in that first half," said Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello. "In the second half I think our energy level came down and we had some turnovers and bad shots."