EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before last night's game with the Washington Bullets, New Jersey Nets coach Chuck Daly fretted over his team's offense minus injured scoring leader Drazen Petrovic.
Daly need not have worried.
All of the Nets resembled All-Stars in blitzing the Bullets, 124-79 -- Washington's most lopsided loss of the season.
In fact, the 45-point margin fell only seven points short of the franchise's all-time worst loss, a 151-99 pounding by the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 10, 1971.
This game was over was early as the first quarter, when the Nets made 17 of their first 23 shots and jumped out to a 36-15 lead.
By halftime, it was 65-34, with the Nets cooling off to 68 percent from the field against the Bullets' token resistance. By the final buzzer, New Jersey's field-goal accuracy was reduced to 60 percent.
In losing 21 of their past 31 games, the Bullets at least had been competitive, with the majority of losses resulting from last-minute breakdowns. But this was one they simply mailed in, executing their best-looking fast break of the night in racing for the homeward-bound bus.
As bad as the Bullets appeared on defense, they managed to look even more ragged on offense, shooting 27 percent in the first half, when they managed only 11 field goals on 41 shots. They finished the game 29 of 88, 33 percent.
The inconsistent play of the Nets prompted management to sign veteran guard Maurice Cheeks, 36, earlier this week.
Daly clearly was dissatisfied with the play of reserves Rumeal Robinson and Tate George in support of fast-improving Kenny Anderson, and said Cheeks, a 14-year veteran, could serve as a mentor and capable backup to his 22-year-old playmaker.
"We're thin at guard," said general manager Willis Reed. "We need Cheeks' experience."
Cheeks was awaiting an offer after the Atlanta Hawks bought out his contract last summer for $600,000. With a future job as a coach in mind, he welcomed the opportunity to play under Daly, who led the Detroit Pistons to consecutive NBA titles.
"This is a steppingstone for me," said Cheeks. "As for Kenny, I'll just help him with things like defense, learning rival players and how to play with fouls."
A more immediate concern for Daly was finding a replacement for Petrovic, who sat out his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. Petrovic had played in 156 consecutive games before the injury.
Daly started Robinson in Petrovic's place. Robinson was 5-for-16 from the field against the Boston Celtics Friday night. Last night, he shot 8-for-17 and scored 18. Robinson was one of seven Nets who scored in double figures.
Just as they did the previous night against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bullets dug a big hole for themselves in the first quarter with passive defense.
Robinson joined Chris Morris in sparking the Nets to a 21-10 lead in the first seven minutes. Anderson was doing an excellent job of penetrating and finding the open man.
A bank shot by Rex Chapman ended one Nets spree, but Morris quickly started another run, scoring five straight points and padding the lead to 25-12.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld substituted liberally, but it hardly helped. The Nets' big men took turns dunking in transition, as the Bullets were slow to get back on defense.
Sam Bowie's layup triggered a 9-0 spurt to give New Jersey a 36-15 cushion after one quarter.
Washington started three rookies in the second quarter -- Don MacLean, Doug Overton and Brent Price. Daly countered with his reserves, who looked as good as his regulars, boosting the margin to 42-15.
It only got worse. Chris Dudley, Rick Mahorn, Rafael Addison and Chucky Brown joined in the run, and New Jersey rolled to a 55-26 lead. Every few minutes, one of the Bullets would hit a free throw to relieve the monotony, but, by halftime, the Nets were breezing 65-34.