PHILADELPHIA -- February is the National Basketball Association's cruelest month, a time filled with back-to-back games, nagging injuries and worn out teams. Endurance, not artistry, is the required element in the long march to the playoffs.
The Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers were caught in the grip of those mid-season blues last night in front of 14,479 spectators at the Spectrum. Neither side was at its best, yet neither team backed down.
It took a career-high of 39 points by Hersey Hawkins and 25 points and 12 rebounds by Charles Barkley to lift the 76ers over the Bullets, 108-100. The victory gave Philadelphia a 25-21 record and Washington's third straight loss dropped it to 20-27.
The Bullets entered the game with a rag-tag mixture of healthy, and not-so healthy players, and suited up 11 men. That was a vast improvement compared to their last game, Sunday, when they ended a 119-101 defeat at Boston with only six healthy players. Of course, the most frightening moment of the season occurred in the third quarter of that game when All-Star forward Bernard King left the game and was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was diagnosed as having an allergic reaction to a vitamin supplement.
King appeared against the 76ers and managed to score 12 points. Harvey Grant led the Bullets with 24 points and A.J. English added 21.
Mark Alarie (eye laceration), Charles Jones (hamstring pull), Pervis Ellison (back spasms) and Ledell Eackles (flu) also returned to the Washington roster, and guard Clinton Smith, the former Cleveland State star who was brought up from the Continental Basketball Association's Albany Patroons, also showed up.
The 76ers entered the game with their set of problems, too. Philadelphia had lost two straight and seven of its last 10, struggling after a sprained left ankle sidelined Barkley for seven games. The Sixers were also reeling from an emotional 107-98 defeat at Detroit Tuesday night.
The 76ers, who began the game with a woeful patch and trailed 18-7 early in the first quarter, held a 55-52 lead by halftime. Hawkins led the 76ers with 19 points and Barkley added 11 in the first half. Grant and Byron Irvin had 12 each for the Bullets, and King, stymied by 4-of-12 shooting from the floor, had eight.
The Bullets played excellent ball to open the third quarter. Grant scored 12 points and English added six during a quick run that took Washington to a 70-59 lead with 6 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The 76ers began chipping away, relying on Hawkins' outside shooting with a pair of crunching stuffs by Rick Mahorn and two baskets by Ron Anderson. Hawkins had eight points in the final 6:17 of the quarter and Philadelphia trailed by 80-76.
The Bullets began the fourth quarter just as they began the game, lined up in an illegal zone defense. Hawkins made the technical free throw, Barkley added two points on a furious drive, and Anderson hit from the corner to give Philadelphia an 81-80 lead with 11 minutes remaining.
The Bullets had a slight manpower problem with 7:45 left when Irvin left the game with his fifth foul as Washington was clinging to an 88-87 lead. Anderson immediately challenged Irvin's replacement, Eckles, sweeping by the defender for a layup for an 89-88 Philadelphia lead with 7:22 left.
Irvin re-entered the game with 4:55 remaining, but the 76ers had increased their lead to 93-88 on driving layups by Barkley and Hawkins.
Philadelphia's strategy down the stretch was simple: get the ball to Barkley. He constantly challenged the Bullets defenders down low, either scoring baskets or drawing fouls.
Philadelphia's last lethal burst occurred during a one-minute stretch when Barkley got a pair of inside baskets and Hawkins hit two breakaway baskets for a 103-90 advantage with 2:20 left.