The Washington Bullets could perhaps be excused if they were a bit distracted early in yesterday's game against Sacramento at Capital Centre. After all, given quarterback Doug Williams' support of the team throughout its gory early season travails, it's understandable that the players' minds were on the Vikings more than the Kings.
For all intent and purposes then, the game didn't truly begin until about seven minutes remained in the second quarter, when the 17-10 final score of the Redskins' NFC championship game win over Minnesota at RFK Stadium was announced. By that time, the Bullets were ahead, 51-40. And by connecting on 60 percent of its shots for the second consecutive contest, Washington went on to an easy 130-113 victory.
"The people who went to RFK really missed something," said guard Jeff Malone. In fact, there was an announced crowd of 3,863 in the stands, and when all the portable televisions were turned off, they were treated to another splendid effort by the Bullets, who won their fourth straight home game for their first three-game winning streak of the season.
It was also the Bullets' third straight blowout win, following a 32-point triumph over the Los Angeles Clippers and a 29-point decision over Milwaukee. Now 12-20, Washington was led by Bernard King's 28 points. Jeff Malone scored 23, reserve guard Frank Johnson added a season-high 20 and center Moses Malone had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Forward Otis Thorpe tied his season-high with 33 points for the Kings, who are also on something of a streak, albeit a negative one. Now 9-26, Sacramento has lost three straight games and its last six on the road. For the season, the club is 1-15 away from Arco Arena.
"We are in a very bad stretch," said Coach Bill Russell, in his first season with the Kings. "We haven't been consistently ready to play . . . I don't think they would have shot so well if we hadn't played such bad defense."
That every Washington player scored in the game, with only guard Steve Colter and forward Mark Alarie making less than half their shots, might have been attributed to the Kings' porous defense. It certainly didn't hurt the Bullets' chances, but then, the club is starting to believe it's capable of fulfilling the lofty expectations some held for the team entering the season.
Now that they're starting to show they can consistently win at home, even against a good team like Milwaukee, the Bullets must prove they can win on the road against a quality club.. Their first opportunity is tonight against the Bulls at Chicago Stadium.
"We do believe in ourselves as a team, that we can do the job," said King. "Sometimes that's more important than talent."
There was plenty of that evident yesterday. The Bullets fell behind, 10-2, after the opening two minutes of the game. But after a timeout, they scored 13 of the next 17 points to go ahead, 15-14. From there things only got better, as Washington led, 32-27, after the first quarter and 71-57 at halftime.
The Kings may be struggling, but the Bullets needed their own bit of fortitude at the start of the third period.
Guard Reggie Theus (24 points) scored on a jumper, Thorpe hit from the side of the lane and former North Carolina guard Kenny Smith added another four points to help the visitors draw to within eight, 73-65, with 10 minutes left in the quarter.
Following another timeout, the Bullets responded with a sterling stretch of basketball, excelling in every facet of the game. Forward Terry Catledge hit a jumper from the free throw line, then Jeff Malone drove the base line en route to a three-point play.
At the other end of the floor, Malone made a steal and started upcourt on a fast break. Entering the area outside the lane, it appeared Malone was out of control, but he deftly flicked the ball behind his back to Catledge, who scored on a dunk. The Kings' next possession also ended in failure when Moses Malone blocked a shot by Thorpe and started another fast break.
This one ended with another layup by Jeff Malone. Washington had scored nine straight points to go ahead, 94-76, with 3:42 remaining. The game was, in essence, over.
"We allowed Thorpe to get a lot of points inside but I still think the guys did a good job of applying defensive pressure on them," said Coach Wes Unseld, now 4-1 since taking over for Kevin Loughery on Jan. 3. "Our team defense has been a factor; with that you can get some points from the transition game. We've been able to push the ball down the court well and connect on a lot of fast break baskets."