NEW YORK -- If there is any credence to the rumored Harvey Grant-for-Charles Oakley trade, the Bullets should be calling New York Knicks general manager Dave Checketts today, trying to get Oakley into a Washington uniform before the teams meet again at the Capital Centre tomorrow night.
But the Knicks likely would drive a harder bargain after watching Oakley grab 18 rebounds and add 13 points last night to send the Bullets to a seventh straight defeat, 101-89, before a Madison Square Garden crowd of 16,127.
Coach Wes Unseld's need for a tough inside rebounder was underlined, as the aggressive Knicks outrebounded the Bullets 56-41.
"They killed us on the boards," Unseld said. "And Oakley was the main reason. He was very demonstrative out there. I thought Pervis [Ellison, Bullets center] neutralized Patrick Ewing, but we didn't have anyone to hold off Oakley."
It would have been considerably uglier if Bullets forward Tom Hammonds, making a rare start, had not responded with a career-high 31 points.
Hammonds triggered several Washington rallies, but the Bullets never came closer than 10 points in the last quarter, as the Knicks (27-15) used their strong rebounding and team defense to clinch their fourth straight win.
While Hammonds carried the Bullets, the Knicks showed excellent balance, with all five starters scoring in double figures.
Shooting guard Gerald Wilkins, known for his inconsistent play, enjoyed one of his on nights with a team-high 22 points.
Wilkins burned rookie LaBradford Smith and reserve guard A.J. English with quick drives through the lane, finishing them off with spectacular dunks. Only defensive-minded David Wingate had any success in stopping him.
Ewing, who had averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds in the previous three games, crammed nine of his 17 points into the opening minutes of the second half to provide a 65-51 cushion, and the Knicks were never threatened.
When Ewing cooled off, reserve forward Kiki Vandeweghe picked up the slack by scoring nine in the fourth quarter.
"I warned [rookie forward] Larry Stewart about not letting Kiki get open for his jump shot," said Unseld, "but he never got up on him."
Knicks coach Pat Riley said he was concerned about his team's uneven performance.
"We showed signs of flatness and sluggishness," he said, "but the important thing was that we got the win. Oakley did a great job. He was stopping the ball and really boarding tonight. His legs had a lot of life."
Said Oakley: "It was just another day at the office for me. I'm just out there to play a role, rebound and play good defense. Some nights you get lucky and your shots fall, too."
It was certainly one of those nights for Hammonds, who made 14 of 24 field-goal attempts.
After struggling his first two NBA seasons, in which he averaged 5.3 points, the No. 1 draft pick from Georgia Tech is showing signs of confidence.
"It was one of those nights that the ball seemed to have eyes every time I shot it," said Hammonds, who has replaced a fading Stewart as a starter. "I was spotting up, and [point guard] Michael Adams was doing a good job of finding me. And when they came out to play me, I was able to put the ball on the floor and take it to the hole."
But Hammonds was the Bullets' only threat. The Knicks, who have improved their defense significantly under Riley this season, cut off the passing lanes and kept Ellison from operating inside.
"They play much tougher team defense under Riley," Hammonds said. "They really help each other out. But they're a very physical team, and you can't back down. You've got to meet them head on."
The Bullets tried, but ended up just getting run over.