DALLAS, FEB. 17 -- Moses Malone returned to the Washington Bullets' lineup tonight for the first time since suffering a chipped bone in his left wrist in the NBA All-Star game Feb. 7. He scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds in just 19 minutes on the court, but it was after the Bullets dropped their seventh game in eight tries, 123-108 to the Dallas Mavericks, that Malone's presence was most conspicuous.
"To tell you the truth, if I don't play, we can't win," Malone protested afterward. "I think it's a shame that an all-star center can't get shots and can't get time and we're 11 games under .500. It's like I'm a substitute on this team. We've got some great individual shooters on this team, but if I just get 19 minutes, we won't win."
Malone, who has been known for his tireless work habits throughout professional career, complained about his lack of playing time earlier this season, before Kevin Loughery was replaced as head coach by Wes Unseld.
Unseld, upon hearing of Malone's comments, defended his decision to keep Malone on the bench in favor of Manute Bol, the 7-foot-6 second-string center. The Washington coaches have responded to the team's tendency to fall behind by significant margins on the road by bringing in reserve players early in the game.
"Let him say what he wants to say," Unseld said. "You have to see the team the way I'm looking at it. My feeling is that I agree with what he says, but he has to show me he deserves to play more than 19 minutes."
Malone, however, says he is not being given that chance.
"The ball has to come inside and then we can move it around, but I don't see it. If I don't get offensive rebounds in the first three minutes then I'm coming out of the game."
Tonight, however, it may have taken more than an all-star effort from Malone to handle Dallas. For the first time in the Unseld era, the Bullets came upon a team that, try as they might, they simply couldn't handle.
After the Mavericks (32-17) opened the game by hitting their first eight shots and 69 percent in the opening quarter, the Bullets' second unit's surges could get the team no closer than 13 points in the second quarter, 10 in the third and 11 in the fourth. The Mavericks led by at least 10 points for the final 42 minutes of the game.
Mark Aguirre led the winners with 35 points. John Williams paced the Bullets (18-29) with 22 and Jeff Malone added 18 as the Bullets fell for the third straight game.
Washington made a brief run in the third quarter, reducing Dallas' lead to 10 with 7:13 left in the period. But the Mavericks finished the quarter with a 19-6 run, with Sam Perkins leading the way with 11 points, and Dallas led 94-71 after three periods.
Malone's return seemed especially good news for the Bullets because, during his 14-year career, Malone had averaged 28 points and 14 rebounds against Dallas.
The rainy night caused the game to be delayed slightly, with leaks from the roof settling on the floor. The wait didn't seem to bother the Mavericks, who took a 15-9 lead.
Washington was controlling the backboards, particularly at the offensive end, but they continued to fall behind as Dallas, led by Aguirre and guard Derek Harper, continued their assault on the basket. The Mavericks ended the quarter hitting 69 percent of their field goal attempts and taking a 39-23 lead.
Aguirre ended the period with 15 points, Harper seven. For the Bullets, Terry Catledge led the way with six.
The second period started a little better for Washington as Unseld inserted his second unit of Manute Bol, Charles Jones, John Williams, Frank Johnson and Tyrone Bogues. That group was the catalyst behind the Bullets' comeback from a 30-point deficit in Monday's 114-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Tonight they helped Washington close to within 42-31 with 10 minutes to play in the half.
The Bullets were able to force the Mavericks into missed shots and turnovers but they were erratic at the other end of the floor, turning over the ball five times in the first 4:30.
The fifth set up a driving dunk by Dallas reserve center Roy Tarpley. The sixth man extrordinare was fouled but unable to complete the three-point play, leaving Dallas ahead, 50-34, with 7:20 left.
Unseld began mixing his starters and reserves, and when Moses Malone hit a pair of free throws with 3:44 left the score was 54-42 Dallas.
The Mavericks added another point to their lead, carrying a 63-50 advantage into the locker rooms at halftime despite making only nine of 29 shots in the second period.
Aguirre had 19 first-half points and Rolando Blackman 16, but the Mavericks' shooting percentage dipped to 49 percent at halftime after their 31 percent second quarter.
Blackman finished with 18 points for Dallas and Tarpley added 17 points and a game-high 19 rebounds.
Cavaliers 115, 76ers 107:
In Philadelphia, Mark Price scored 28 points and Tyrone Corbin made a key defensive play late in the game, helping Cleveland send Philadelphia to its 11th loss in its last 14 games.
The loss was Philadelphia's third straight; the Sixers have won only one game while losing four under new coach Jim Lynam.
Nuggets 138, Celtics 125:
In Denver, Boston lost its two-game season series to the Nuggets and Larry Bird's nose was broken by obscure Blair Rasmussen, who scored a career-high 34 points. Bird finished with just 13.
Denver's Alex English matched his season high with 37 points. The Nuggets had beaten the Celtics, 124-119, in Boston on Dec. 9.
Bucks 115, SuperSonics 93:
Terry Cummings scored 20 points and six other Milwaukee players hit in double figures as the Bucks broke open the game in the fourth period in Milwaukee.
Jazz 108, Suns 103:
Karl Malone had 29 points and 16 rebounds and Darrell Griffith passed the 10,000-point career milestone as Utah won in Salt Lake City. Griffith, in his seventh year, scored 22 points to go six points over the mark.
Trail Blazers 110, Clippers 96:
Foul-plagued Clyde Drexler scored seven of his 41 points during a key fourth-quarter run as Portland beat host Los Angeles for the 10th straight time.