INGLEWOOD, CALIF., FEB. 23 -- If moral victories and little triumphs were counted in the won-loss column, the Washington Bullets might well be atop the NBA standings instead of struggling to salvage a playoff berth from a mostly depressing season.
That isn't the case, however, and so, despite some impressive defensive work against the league leaders, the Bullets lost a 111-100 decision tonight.
As was the case in the the team's 100-87 loss to Denver on Monday night, the Bullets (19-32) first fell apart and then fell short in the third and fourth quarters. Playing without forward Bernard King, out with a bruised back, the Bullets got a career-high 14 rebounds from Charles Jones and held a 52-44 game advantage on the boards.
But the Lakers (43-9, with an eight-game win streak), whose fast break was held in check for most of the night, scored 10 straight points four minutes into the third period to take a 61-53 lead and got a seven-point run a short time later to lead, 76-65, entering the final 12 minutes.
The fourth quarter was almost entirely devoted to Showtime, Lakerese for high-flying, crowd-pleasing play. Washington got as close as 86-76 with 7:50 remaining, but Los Angeles was never truly threatened and most of the sellout crowd of 17,505 had departed long before the final buzzer.
Jeff Malone had 26 points to lead all scorers; James Worthy had 23 to pace the Lakers.
Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said of the game, "I thought that we played the way we wanted to in the first half, but our inability to make shots later put too much pressure on our defense and eventually we broke down. It's become a pattern with us.
"I thought we had a chance in this game; we'd beaten them once this year and I thought we could do it again."
Said Jeff Malone: "We're definitely struggling right now; we're standing around a lot and not helping on defense. You're not going to shut everyone down individually in this league every night -- you need to have help."
Both teams entered the game shorthanded. King stayed behind at the team's hotel. Los Angeles center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, missed the contest with a case of the flu.
The Lakers have run roughshod over the entire NBA this season. Their record is the best in the league and they entered play tonight having won seven straight games, 14 of 15 and 31 of their last 34. This season, the Lakers had won five of six games against Atlantic Division teams, the lone loss coming to Washington, a 120-112 overtime decision at Capital Centre on Dec. 9.
The defending champions also had won 15 of their last 17 games against Atlantic foes. Surprisingly, the other defeat was also at the hands of the Bullets, who won, 114-99, here last February.
Perhaps that's one reason why, despite their 1-3 record during their current western conference road trip, Washington harbored hopes of a victory tonight. And, with six minutes left in the opening period, the visitors were ahead, 11-10. Jones, who started the game in place of King, hadn't scored but played solid defense on all-star Worthy.
Mike Smrek, who started for Abdul-Jabbar, hit two free throws with 5:23 left to put the home team ahead, but Washington responded with six straight points to take a 17-12 lead with 2:32 to play in the quarter. The Lakers, who had victories over Houston, Atlanta and Detroit last week, were just four for 17 from the field to that point.
The Bullets got a driving layup from Jeff Malone before Worthy hit a pair of free throws to stop the visitor's spurt. At the end of the period though, Washington led, 23-18. Terry Catledge had eight points and Jeff Malone seven for the Bullets; Worthy had six for the Lakers.
The forward got four quick points at the start of the second period and guard Byron Scott connected on a three-pointer but the visitors still clung to a 29-25 lead with 8:37 remaining in the half.
At halftime, the Lakers were on top, 47-45.