Nuggets, altitude leave Bullets gasping, 123-104

DENVER — DENVER -- Despite playing a mile above sea level, the Washington Bullets' shooting reached the lowest of lows.

The Bullets watched the Denver Nuggets run away for a 123-104 victory at McNichols Sports Arena last night.


After opening its seven-game, 11-day Western road swing with two victories, Washington has lost two in three nights.

Washington fell to 15-33, and Denver, which won its 10th in a row at home, improved to 20-28.


For the night, Washington made 37 of 86 field-goal attempts (43.0 percent).

"I'm not looking for an excuse, but the altitude is a factor," said Bullets forward Buck Johnson, who scored a team-high 21 points. "And they've got a lot of good young players."

In the first meeting between the first-round draft choices, the Nuggets' LaPhonso Ellis outclassed Tom Gugliotta by controlling the inside. Ellis finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

"It's just one game, but LaPhonso was pumped up," Nuggets coach Dan Issel said. "Last night going against [the 76ers' Clarence] Weatherspoon, he said he would have scored 40 if he wouldn't have gotten into foul trouble. So he was pumped today."

Meanwhile, Bullets top pick Gugliotta symbolized Washington's ineptness, missing all seven field-goal attempts and finishing with no points in 23 minutes.

"In the second half I didn't have any wind," Gugliotta said. "I couldn't get anything going. It felt like my legs were made of lead."

After poor first-period shooting, Washington opened the second hitting its jump shots to take a short-lived 39-36 lead.

Larry Stewart, who finished with 20 points, came off the bench to ignite the run. But just as quickly as the Bullets regained their touch, they lost it again as the Nuggets ran off an 8-0 streak opening a 48-41 advantage with 4:48 left in the half. Washington would never have the lead again.


Denver spent the remainder of the half getting easy baskets inside to take a 61-51 lead into intermission.

In the final six minutes of the half, the Bullets made just three of 14 field-goal attempts.

"We have to get something easy," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "And I don't think we did that tonight. [Denver] had easy shots, and they made them. Some of them were too easy."

When Ellis, who scored 14 points in the first half, was not slamming, Chris Jackson, who had 13, was getting open for medium-range jumpers.

Johnson, who had 15 points, and Harvey Grant, who had 12, were the only consistent scorers for the Bullets, who made 18 of 43 shots in the first half.

Typical of the Bullets' shooting woes was Gugliotta, who missed all five first-half attempts and did not have a point.


"I think he was struggling and we weren't able to do anything forhim," Unseld said of Gugliotta. "We weren't able to get him his shots."

Matters got worse in the third quarter when Denver opened leads as big as 21 points. Three straight Nuggets turnovers allowed the Bullets to close within 87-71 at the end of the period.

The fourth quarter was more of the same with Denver eventually gaining a 26-point lead.