LANDOVER -- The Washington Bullets attracted their 13th sellout crowd of the season, but as is so often the case, the majority of the fans were rooting for the visitors, the Denver Nuggets.
And for good reason. The Nuggets boast two Georgetown alums -- center Dikembe Mutombo and swing man Reggie Williams, plus former Bullets forward Tom Hammonds. And Rockville-based Comsat, the parent company of the Nuggets, purchased 10,000 tickets to account for more than half of the 18,756 Capital Centre seats.
"From the sound of the cheers, it was just like we were playing at home," said rookie coach Dan Issel after his Nuggets cruised to a 126-112 victory over the injury-depleted Bullets (16-42).
It was in the third quarter that the bigger and quicker Nuggets (25-34) broke it open, scoring 40 points on 70 percent shooting (16-for-23).
That opened a 13-point lead, and the Bullets, losing for the fifth straight game and 11th in the past 12 games, never drew closer than nine in the final quarter.
Mutombo, enjoying the familiar surroundings, showed the way with 20 points and 27 rebounds.
His teammates concentrated on getting the ball inside to the 7-foot-2 center, who had a sizable advantage over the Bullets' Tom Gugliotta, filling in for the injured Pervis Ellison.
Gugliotta, 6-10 and 240, held his own on the offensive end in the first half, when he scored 20 of his game-high 26 points. But he tired visibly in the second half when the Nuggets took control of the boards to finish with a 54-33 rebounding advantage.
"It's tough enough trying to keep Mutombo off the boards and out of scoring position," said Gugliotta, "and then trying to carry the scoring load on the other end of the floor."
Forward Larry Stewart, getting his first start of the season, helped Gugliotta with 21 points, and LaBradford Smith, coming off an ankle injury, scored 20 in 29 minutes.
But that was hardly enough to offset the balanced Nuggets, who got 20 points from rookie forward LaPhonso Ellis, 18 from Williams, 17 from elusive guard Chris Jackson, and 17 from reserve guard Robert Pack, who consistently performs like an All-Star against Washington.
In the first encounter in Denver last month, Pack, who was obtained from Portland at the start of the season, scored 21 points in as many minutes. The Bullets, playing without Ellison, Rex Chapman (ankle) and Doug Overton (thumb) were guilty of only eight turnovers. But it was their inability to convert fast-break opportunities that robbed them of any chance to overtake the Nuggets in the second half.
"We just didn't finish our breaks," said Adams, whose NBA career blossomed when he wore a Nuggets uniform from 1987 to '91. "Mutombo was making our guys think twice about taking their shots."
The Nuggets, who had won only four of their previous 30 road tests -- second-worst in the league to Dallas -- could not shake the Bullets until their passing game came together in the second half.
"Even though we shot 50 percent and scored 51 points in the first half, I wasn't happy with the way we were playing," said Issel. "We were making one pass and shooting. In the second half, our guards did a better job distributing the ball and our offense started to click. And our defense also created shots in transition."
Asked if he was concerned about putting on a good show for his owners, Issel said, "Sure, it was nice winning, but that didn't worry me. The thing that really concerns me is how many wins we can get before the season ends."