LANDOVER -- Charles Barkley dedicated the Philadelphia 76ers' game with the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre last night to suspended teammate Jayson Williams, who had come to his aid in Thursday night's tangle with the Charlotte Hornets' J.R. Reid.
So what if Barkley spelled Jayson's name on his sneakers without a 'Y.' He delivered his message emphatically, as he scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to defeat the Bullets, before another sellout of 18,756.
"Jayson protected my rear, I owed it to him," said Barkley of his tribute to the second-year forward who was suspended for two games and fined $10,000 for punching Reid.
But for Barkley, last night's game with the Bullets was a gut-check for all the 76ers after a franchise-record 52-point loss to the Hornets.
"When this team took EKG tests, most of the players didn't show a heartbeat," Barkley said. "But we're not going to go down without a fight anymore. Tonight, we showed some heart. We might be a little gutless at times, but we're not cowards. There's a difference."
The biggest difference for the 76ers, who have won all four games against the Bullets this season, was Barkley, who drew his usual crowd of defenders to no avail.
Washington, losing its fifth straight and 17th of its past 21, had some success in stopping the All-Star forward in the first quarter when three of his shots were blocked in a 38-second sequence.
By halftime, Barkley was in full gear, however, having scored 19 points to help the Sixers take a 55-51 lead. Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who had tried Charles Jones, Pervis Ellison and Larry Stewart on Barkley, turned to rookie guard LaBradford Smith in the third quarter.
This proved a total mismatch, as Barkley backed the smaller Smith into the basket for turnaround jumpers. Failing that, he hit long jumpers to score 11 points in the quarter for an 84-75 cushion.
Defending his strategy, Unseld said, "With C.J. guarding him, Barkley doesn't have to work on defense. At least, Smith [14 points, nine assists] gives him something to worry about."
But aside from Ellison, who provided 30 points and 12 rebounds while still experiencing the breathing problems that have bothered him all week, the Bullets had no one to threaten the 76ers, who were winning for only the third time in their past 10 games.
The other four Bullets starters -- Michael Adams, Eackles, Jones and David Wingate -- went 10-for-31 from the field in combining for 26 points.
Somehow, the Bullets trailed by only 87-81 with nine minutes remaining. But in the next minute, Barkley, Ron Anderson and Hersey Hawkins stretched the lead to 91-81, and Washington never drew closer than eight the rest of the way.
Most of the problem came in trying to attack reserve center Manute Bol, who rejected six Bullets shots in 20 minutes.
"You've got to get up a full head of steam and attack Manute at an angle," said Ellison. "But in the second half, there always seemed to be a guy stepping in front of me to slow me down."
The victory kept the 76ers in the playoff hunt and avoided a possible mutiny after the Charlotte debacle.
"When you lose by 52, it certainly gets your attention," said 76ers coach Jim Lynam. "When you get embarrassed that badly, you have to screw things down. We were certainly light years better tonight."
And for the spiraling Bullets, the playoffs now seem light years away.
NOTES: For the second straight game, the Bullets played without Harvey Grant, their third leading scorer. Grant is still complaining of soreness in his right knee. Recently acquired guard Rex Chapman is eligible to come off the injured list tomorrow night in Detroit, but says his sore left heel has not responded to treatment.