LANDOVER -- A basketball game broke out in a track meet at the Capital Centre last night, as the Washington Bullets raced to a record-breaking, 161-133 victory over the Denver Nuggets before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
Records fell. Bernard King scored a Bullets high of 52 points, breaking center Moses Malone's Washington record of 50. But Earl Monroe set the standard with 56 points as a Baltimore Bullet in 1968. Phil Chenier is next with 53.
The 161 points was a team record for the Washington franchise, easily eclipsing the mark of 146 set against Indiana on Jan. 6, 1972.
This racing style was supposed to be to Denver's advantage, but the Bullets (11-17) jumped to a 48-35 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
It may not have been basketball for the purists, but the fans were rocking and rolling as the score continued to build in pinball fashion.
After two minutes, 15 points had been scored, with both teams penetrating at will. Michael Adams contributed six points to an 11-9 Denver lead. Two straight three-point plays by King pushed the Bullets in front, 17-11.
Pervis Ellison's rebounding and shot blocking triggered an 11-2 run by the home team for a 33-24 spread. With three minutes left in the first quarter, King had 20 points, hitting eight of his first 12 shots, mostly uncontested layups.
Tom Hammonds came off the bench to hit his first three shots, padding the Bullets' lead to 48-35 in a record-breaking quarter. King's 23 points set an individual mark for the first quarter and the 48 points were a team record. Washington made 71 percent of its field-goal attempts (20-for-28).
The pace slackened in the second quarter, as Adams and Anthony Cook trimmed the deficit to 54-43. Six points by reserve guard A.J. English kept the Bullets ahead, 60-47.
To keep his troops fresh, Wes Unseld substituted liberally. King cooled off, and the Bullets could not find another hot shooter for several minutes until Grant sparked an 8-2 spree for a 75-57 cushion.
Ellison punctuated the first half with a flying stuff, leaving the Bullets with an 81-61 advantage. The 81 points were two better than the old record of 79 against Kansas City in 1977.
King led the scorers with 31 at intermission, a basket short of Jeff Malone's mark. The Bullets made 33 of 50 shots for 66 percent.
King continued his hot shooting to start the second half. His three floating jumpers gave Washington an 89-68 bulge. Then it was English's turn. He scored six to give the Bullets 100 with 19 minutes remaining.
Both teams then hit a dry spell. Washington managed only six points in the next 3:30 but still comfortably, 106-81. Two nice assists by Ledell Eackles to Mark Alarie led to layups and a 117-88 lead after three quarters. King had 41 points going into HTC the last period.
With eight minutes left, the Bullets were cruising in front, 128-97.
Then things turned sour.
The Nuggets used a trapping defense to catch Eackles and Byron Irvin in the backcourt. Repeated turnovers led to an 11-point run by the Nuggets to trim the margin to 128-108.
A free throw by King ended this streak. It also gave the forward 46 points, tying his mark as a Bullet. A minute later, He broke it with a pair of foul shots and a baseline jumper made it an even 50, earning a standing ovation from the fans.
With the Bullets leading, 137-112, Unseld decided to give King a breather with 4:35 left as the game turned into a layup drill.
But King returned after 30 seconds, when Unseld was made aware that he had only tied Moses Malone's team record.
Although his team had won only six of the previous 27 games, Nuggets coach Paul Westhead insisted that his unorthodox style of offense, requiring a shot every six seconds, would ultimately work.
"The ability to do this can take a week, a month or a lifetime," he said. "The only question is how long it will take to be successful," he said. "Eventually, we'll be the ones setting all the records."
"We've seen that it can work," said second-year guard Todd Lichti. "We've seen rival teams exhausted, ready to crack, but we haven't been able to knock them out."
Actually, the Nuggets' scoring had sagged dramatically over the past five games. Only once did they score more than 114 points, beating the Kings in Sacramento Wednesday, 126-112.
Denver lost a big part of its offense when its leading scorer, forward Orlando Woolridge, who was averaging 29 points, suffered an eye injury and underwent surgery for a detached retina, Dec. 21. He is expected to be sidelined for two months.