Somewhat battered but smiling nonetheless, the Washington Bullets will continue their attempt to rise to respectability tonight when they face the Chicago Bulls at Capital Centre.
Most of the Bullets participated in a brief but high-spirited workout yesterday at Bowie State College. Guard Jeff Malone sat out with a stiff back and rookie Tyrone Bogues with a cough, but both will play against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
The NBA's leading scorer with more than 33 points per game, Jordan is the main reason Chicago is not only respected but feared by many teams. He scored 52 points against Cleveland Thursday and there are still plenty of seats available for tonight's game to see if he can approach that figure against the Bullets. The Bulls have a 15-7 record and are 8-4 on the road -- one of the best away records in the league.
"They're obviously having a terrific year, especially on the road," said Washington Coach Kevin Loughery, whose team lost to the Bulls, 84-82, here Nov. 18. "They're an excellent team. They have a chance to be really big in the league this year. They've improved themselves and they have a guy who's one of the top three players in the league. Jordan can get a shot whenever he wants. The isolation factor is so important in this league."
The Bullets found that out in their 115-111 overtime victory over Indiana on Thursday. In that game, forward Bernard King, often working one on one from the wings against Chuck Person, took over down the stretch. Of Washington's final 10 field goals in the game, King scored four and assisted on the other six. He finished with 23 points, seven assists and three steals.
His presence, and some steady outside shooting in the clutch from Darrell Walker, opened up the court for Washington. Although the Bullets are only 7-14, the team is on something of an upswing, with fairly consistent production opening things up for a number of players. Against the Pacers, center Moses Malone scored 31 points with 14 rebounds; it was the first time since Nov. 13 that Malone had scored 30. He is averaging 20.4 points per game and 10.1 rebounds.
King scored 32 points against New Jersey a week ago in a 122-107 victory. In that game, as well as against Indiana, King scored a number of his points after slashing to the basket, either on the fast break or through traffic.
"When we run we can get some easy baskets," said Walker, who played with King as a member of the New York Knicks.
"I know I'm trying to push the ball up the court when I'm in there. That's when B's best -- in the open court."
After the win against the Nets, one New York writer said that King -- who's come back this season from knee surgery after a virtual two-year absence from the game -- is but a shadow of his former self.
King had a different opinion. "If you're looking at me and expecting to see someone who led the NBA in scoring in 1985, then you may be disappointed," he said. "If you're looking at me and seeing someone who's coming back from a serious knee injury then you might feel differently."
For Loughery, one of the most gratifying things about the Indiana game was the major contributions made by Moses Malone and King, who, along with Jeff Malone, were expected to comprise Washington's Big Three. Jeff Malone scored 19 points against the Pacers and literally had a hand in the Bullets' comeback, getting an offensive rebound and making a nice tip-pass to King for a basket. And, as evidenced by King's seven assists, there appears to be a conscious effort by all three to pass the ball more.
After the game, Loughery said, "The people who are supposed to be carrying this club have to do a better job of it. We expect games like that from Bernard every night."
If those expectations are met, Washington might begin to make up some ground on opponents as the Bullets continue a stretch in which they will play at home nine of their next 11 games.
"We've rebounded the ball better and shot 50 percent for the last two games. We've lifted our team percentage up two points, that's a good sign," said Loughery.
"I've said this series of games around Christmas is critical for us and I mean that. We're playing at home, there's time in between each game. We don't have any excuses."