LOS ANGELES -- In good times or bad, the Washington Bullets always managed to beat the Los Angeles Clippers. They had won 13 of the previous 14 meetings, including their last seven visits to the antiquated Sports Arena.
But all that changed last night when the Bullets, finishing an exhausting seven-game, 11-day road trip, were blistered by the Clippers, 108-95.
Boasting the beefiest front line in the NBA, the Clippers (26-25) simply out-muscled the less-physical Bullets (15-36). "Hot Plate" and "Cold Cuts," alias former Bullets forward John Williams and center Stanley Roberts (21 points, six rebounds), used their bulk to wear down their rivals and reserve forward Loy Vaught soaked up the gravy with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Questioned about the mismatch inside, Bullets coach Wes Unseld said, "We couldn't hold Roberts out even long enough to try to double-team him.
"Defensively, we just didn't get it done. We didn't double or rotate properly. And we let their guards, especially [Mark] Jackson, penetrate at will. Offensively, we didn't execute or set picks."
Jackson (17 points, nine assists) made all the right decisions in running the balanced Clippers offense, with Danny Manning (18 points) and Ron Harper (15 points) joining the fun.
Unseld and his road-weary players seemed in full agreement that everyone "needs a break."
With no representation in the weekend NBA All-Star activities in Salt Lake City, the team will enjoy a three-day holiday before reconvening in Atlanta, where the Bullets face the Hawks on Tuesday night.
The Clippers, clinging to the eighth and last playoff spot in the Western Conference, were minus starting forward Ken Norman, sidelined with the chickenpox. But Vaught more than filled the void, matching his season-high with 14 rebounds.
"I've been playing behind the best player on the team [Manning] so my minutes have been limited," said Vaught, a former Michigan star. "But I just try to put myself in a frame of mind to produce a spark anyway I can -- scoring, rebounding or defending. The harder I work, the luckier I get."
The Bullets made several runs at the Clippers, but did not have the legs or depth to seriously threaten after Los Angeles moved to an 18-point lead early in the final quarter.
Pervis Ellison paced the losers with 17 points and eight %o rebounds.
After four straight road losses, Unseld opted to give his Bullets a decidedly new look.
There were two new faces in the starting lineup. Former UCLA All-American Don MacLean got his first pro start in his hometown, replacing Buck Johnson at small forward. LaBradford Smith moved into the shooting guard spot after Harvey Grant became a late scratch with a calf injury.
The revamped lineup paid quick dividends when Smith and MacLean combined to give Washington a 6-0 lead. But that vanished. Porous Bullets defense allowed Jackson, Harper and Manning to make layups without resistance in a 10-0 spurt.
Both teams played erratically the remainder of the first period.
Los Angeles tried to power the ball inside to their front line of Williams, Roberts and Elmore Spencer. The Bullets settled mostly for perimeter shots, but had just as little success. After one quarter, the Clippers -- led by Manning's nine points -- led 25-20.
Unseld turned to his bench in the second quarter, and forward Larry Stewart, who had hit 24 of 28 shots in the previous three games, sparked a Bullets rally that produced a 43-43 tie.
But then everything turned sour for the visitors. With Jackson running the fast break and making clever passes, the Clippers outscored the Bullets 17-4 in a five-minute stretch to gain a 60-47 halftime cushion.
Roberts, 7 feet, 285 pounds, overpowered the smaller Bullets in the opening minutes of the second half. He simply used his brute strength against Ellison and Tom Gugliotta to score four slam dunks to give the home team a 71-57 advantage.
NOTES: The Bullets will not re-sign reserve guard Steve Burtt, who played sparingly during his consecutive 10-day trials. "We don't want to tie up anybody for the rest of the year since Doug Overton could be back in a month," said general manager John Nash. Overton is on the injured list with a fractured thumb. A possible 10-day replacement is Tom Garrick, who was the last cut in training camp. Garrick is playing in the CBA.