After the first game of the Washington Bullets' eight-game Western Conference road trip, Moses Malone sounded off, complaining loudly about a lack of playing time. Two weeks later, at the conclusion of the trek, he didn't speak at all.
"I've got nothing to say," Malone commented after scoring 33 points and totaling nine rebounds in the Bullets' 110-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors Monday. At the next locker, rookie Tyrone Bogues offered his assistance.
"Anybody who wants to know about Moses will have to talk to me," said Bogues. Okay Muggsy, what about Moses?
"He doesn't have anything to say."
Actually, Malone had made a number of comments to teammates following Washington's 116-106 win over Phoenix last Saturday, saying that he wasn't receiving the basketball enough after establishing position in the low post. The all-star had but two points at halftime of that game and finished with 16.
To be sure, there were a few occasions where it seemed obvious entry passes were eschewed and others were deflected away. Perhaps a more mitigating circumstance, though, was the 47 points scored by guard Jeff Malone.
Jeff Malone said that going into Monday's game against the Warriors he was aware of his teammate's gripe, but felt that, in the absence of forward Bernard King, he had to continue to shoot the basketball. Early in the game, it appeared his shooting might have been ill-advised. After a 32-of-48 spree against the Suns and Sacramento, the guard was two for 12 in the first half of Monday's contest but finished with 15 points.
His poor first half wasn't catastrophic, however, because the Warriors were only shooting 39 percent from the field in the opening two periods. At the start of the third quarter, Moses Malone took control of the game, scoring six points in the first 1:32, 12 by the seven-minute mark, to help turn around a 53-50 halftime deficit.
Golden State was missing center Ralph Sampson and top rebounder Larry Smith, but Bullets Coach Wes Unseld, while aware that Moses Malone was upset, said he didn't change his approach to the game.
"We would have gone to him whether Ralph would've played or not," Unseld said. "Moses had a big night; we've got to have big nights every night from some of our guys."
There were certainly a number of highly complementary performances to Moses Malone's effort. John Williams, starting for the third straight game at small forward, had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Steve Colter had 14 points and seven assists and Terry Catledge came off the bench to add 16 points and eight rebounds.
All of that was necessary to hold off Golden State. From a team standpoint, the final three minutes were a thing of beauty. Washington led, 95-83, but the Warriors, led by a career-high 29 points from guard Otis Smith, drew within 100-94.
The Warriors went into a press and appeared to have Moses Malone trapped in the far left corner. However, with four seconds remaining on the 24-second clock, the center found Catledge, who made a tough shot in traffic from the lane. Smith countered for Golden State and the home team continued to press, forcing the Bullets to spend a 20-second timeout. When play resumed, Moses Malone managed to hit a fadeaway, again from the left side which just beat the 24-second clock.
The Bullets' defense stiffened on the Warriors' subsequent possession. After 19 seconds, guard Chris Mullin scrambled to take a shot but it was blocked by Jeff Malone and with 1:39 left, the Bullets' guard converted at the other end, hitting a driving layup to make it 106-96.
It was the type of performance that playoff teams routinely make, especially against inferior opponents. Washington has struggled in such situations, however, when the competition is heightened. For example, in five of the team's last six losses against teams currently in the chase for Eastern Conference playoff berths, the Bullets have fallen by a total of 19 points.
The Bullets' victories in the final three games of the 4-4 road trip vaulted them back into the postseason picture. Wednesday the team faces the Indiana Pacers at Capital Centre. On Friday the Bullets travel to Indianapolis for a rematch and then return home the following night to meet the Detroit Pistons.
The Bullets are a half game out of the eighth and last playoff spot, but 13 of their next 15 games are against teams currently in position to make the playoffs.
"We just have to go back home and get ready and try to make our move," said Williams, who has averaged 16.6 points, seven rebounds and almost three assists starting the last three games. "We can get into the playoffs, but we really have to play each game one at a time."