PHILADELPHIA -- After beating Washington in two down-to-the-wire road thrillers, with All-Star forward Charles Barkley as the principal villain, the Philadelphia 76ers used a new formula at The Spectrum last night in beating the Bullets for the third straight time, 99-91.
This time, Barkley was less than spectacular, making four of 11 shots in a sub-par 18-point performance. But the 76ers got strong offensive efforts from shooting guard Hersey Hawkins (24 points), power forward Armon Gilliam (20 points, 12 rebounds) ,, and sixth man Ron Anderson (16 points) to compensate for Barkley's off-night.
Philadelphia (18-21) also got an excellent defensive job from point guard Johnny Dawkins, who limited Bullets counterpart Michael Adams to one field goal on seven shots. He finished with six points, 15 below his season average.
Pervis Ellison, playing on a gimpy right ankle, scored 21 points, but only five in the second half. Harvey Grant led the Bullets with 23, but scored his last basket with more than six minutes remaining.
But for all their offensive problems, the Bullets (14-24) still had a chance to win. With 5 minutes, 20 seconds left, they trailed, 91-86, after A.J. English made a jumper.
Their only field goal in the remaining time was a three-point shot ++ by rookie guard LaBradford Smith that drew Washington to within 95-91 with two minutes remaining. The Bullets would not score again, however, as Gilliam and Anderson wrapped it up from the foul line.
Watching his team suffer through these lengthy scoring droughts is hardly a new experience for Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who benched Ellison and Adams early in the fourth quarter, hoping he could find a spark elsewhere.
But only English (16 points) shot the ball with any consistency. The Bullets also failed to capitalize on the 76ers' loose ballhandling, scoring but 12 points on 19 turnovers.
"Michael has to get up more than seven shots in a game to give us a chance to win," said Unseld. "Give their defense some credit. They did a good job of doubling him and making him give up the ball."
Adams, who was challenging Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins for the scoring lead early in the season, has been in a slump since breaking the ring finger on his left hand against Boston, Nov. 25. His shooting percentage dipped below 40 percent this week.
"I was looking for the ball tonight, but we weren't setting a lot of picks," said Adams.
"Dawkins was overplaying me, and every time I called my own play, they would send another man at me. I usually got the ball to Pervis, who made most of his shots in the first half, but we couldn't get anything to work with the game on the line."
Dawkins, who has struggled to regain top form after undergoing knee surgery in November 1990, displayed his old quickness in keeping Adams from penetrating the lane.
"Tonight was one of the few nights we've had success stopping Adams," said the former Duke All-American. "You can't stop him, but we did contain him. The guys were looking to help me, talking to me and getting back in transition."
Philadelphia coach Jim Lynam performed a nice balancing act between Gilliam and defensive specialist Manute Bol, who played 23 minutes in the absence of starter Charles Shackleford (sprained knee).
As is usually the case, the Bullets struggled to get off a shot when Bol was guarding the basket. When the 7-foot-7 center was on the floor, they shot only 33 percent from the field.
Gilliam was the focus of the 76ers' inside game, repeatedly powering his way to the hoop for layups and slams. When the Bullets doubled down on Gilliam or Barkley, the 76ers found either Anderson or Hawkins (9-for-11) open on the wings for jump shots.
This was supposed to be the "soft" part of the schedule for the Bullets, playing division rivals with sub-.500 records. But they have lost three straight -- two to Philadelphia and one to Miami -- to fall further behind in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot.
They will try to end the losing streak tomorrow night in Miami, where they have lost three straight to the fast-improving Heat.