LANDOVER -- When a team (Denver) with the second-worst NTC road record meets a team (Washington) with the third-worst home record, something's got to give.
And last night it was the Bullets who collapsed in the fourth quarter when they were outscored 36-22 by the Nuggets, who registered only their fourth road victory in 25 games, 106-99, before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
In a sense, two of the Nuggets -- center Dikembe Mutombo and small forward Reggie Williams -- felt more at home playing at the Capital Centre than their Washington rivals. Mutombo and Williams both starred at Georgetown, which played most of its home games on this court and received strong support last night from relatives and friends.
Mutombo purchased 62 tickets and Williams, who also played for Dunbar High in Baltimore, 38, to accommodate all their well-wishers. They had much to cheer about in the final quarter when the two former Hoyas were instrumental in converting a 77-70 deficit into a seven-point winning margin.
"There is no place like home," beamed Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 rookie who crammed 10 points, five rebounds and two key blocks into the last 12 minutes. "This game gave me great pleasure, especially with my parents visiting from Zaire."
Mutombo tried too hard to please in the first half when he was limited to three points and six rebounds.
"Coach [Paul] Westhead pulled me aside at halftime and said, 'Big fella, just calm down and let the game come to you.' And that's what I did.
"It wasn't that I was too emotional. In the first half, they were double- and triple-teaming me just like when I was at Georgetown. So I just looked for the open man."
The Nuggets' open man quite often was Williams (18 points, nine rebounds), the oft-traded swing man who has finally found a home in Denver with Westhead.
With two minutes left, the score tied at 95 and the Bullets concentrating on stopping Mutombo down low, the wiry Williams spotted up and holed a critical three-pointer to give the Nuggets the lead for good.
"I was just hoping David [onetime Dunbar and Georgetown teammate David Wingate] would just stop back another inch and give me room to shoot the three," said Williams.
And that is just what happened. As Bullets forward Harvey Grant noted, "It took Reggie a lot of guts to shoot that shot. Wingate just turned his head for a second to look at Mutombo, and the next thing you knew, the ball was in the basket."
Said Westhead, "Reggie is our 'go-to' shooter. I give him complete freedom out there to shoot when he's open. Whenever we need a big basket, we look for him, and he came through again tonight."
The productive season and a half he has spent in Denver has been vindication for Williams, a first-round draft pick in 1987 who has been traded or released by the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago and San Antonio before being claimed as a free agent by the Nuggets last year.
"For once in my career, I'm happy," said the Baltimore native. "I'm having fun playing basketball for the time in the NBA. I don't have to worry about missing a shot or making a mistake. This is the way the game is meant to be played."
Wasted by Washington was a second straight 30-point night by Pervis Ellison, who made 12 of 19 shots also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. But the rest of the Bullets shot 24-for-70 from the field, and, typically, were at their worst in the final period when they made 5 of 17 shots.
There is no place like home, unless, of course, you're the Bullets.