ATLANTA -- Dominique Wilkins is used to being the Atlanta Hawks' center of attention, so sitting the last nine minutes of the second quarter last night against the Washington Bullets was an unfamiliar role for the All-Star forward.
"It was unusual for me to sit that long," Wilkins said. "But when I came out in the second half, I was just more focused."
On fire would be a more accurate description of Wilkins, who scored 24 of his game-high 37 points in the third quarter as the Hawks won their seventh straight, 124-108, before 9,250 at The Omni.
It was the misfortune of the Bullets (5-6) to face an Atlanta team that is off to its best start (8-4) since opening the 1986-87 season 10-2.
Wilkins was one of five Atlanta players in double figures. Fellow starters Stacey Augmon added 25 and Kevin Willis scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Atlanta, which was shooting just 42.5 percent from the field before last night, shot a season-best 57.5 percent against the Bullets.
"I don't know if we were physically tried or drained, but we were just lackadaisical," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "We kept looking for somebody to give us a lift, and we didn't get it."
Rex Chapman led the Bullets with 30 points and Michael Adams added 23. Those two combined to hit 72.4 percent of their shots from the field (21 of 29). Forwards Don MacLean (17 points) and Tom Gugliotta (14) also had good scoring nights.
But the big lift was the one the Hawks got from Wilkins, who broke open a game that Atlanta led 54-52 at the half.
"We tried to caution our players about Dominique's explosiveness," Unseld said. "Dominique is a great player and we just did not have anyone step up and challenge him in the third quarter."
After the teams exchanged baskets in the opening minute of the third quarter, Wilkins began putting on a show. He hit three-point shots at the beginning and end of a 12-0 Atlanta run -- and had a jumper in between -- that gave the Hawks a 68-54 lead with 8:38 left in the third quarter.
Wilkins ended up with 24 points in the quarter, just below his 24.2 average going into the game. Fittingly, Wilkins hit a 'N fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give Atlanta a 96-76 lead going into the final period.
Wilkins hit his first six shots of the quarter and finished it 9-for-11 from the field. No Bullet came close to being able to guard him.
"We didn't want Dominique to hurt us the way he did, but we couldn't guard him one-on-one and the double-teams were not coming over in time," Gugliotta said. "He made some tough shots, but it was one of those things where we just did not play good defense."
Wilkins' 24 points in the quarter were four short of the team-record 28 that he scored against the Sacramento Kings in 1988.
"The basket looked as big as this room," said Wilkins. "When you feel it like that, no matter what you shoot, it's going to fall. I was just in a groove."
That groove helped the Hawks build a 21-point lead. The Bullets closed to nine in the fourth quarter after a Gugliotta layup with 3:16 left, but got no closer.
Washington shot 53.1 percent from the field, and became the first Hawks opponent in the past 10 games to score more than 100 points. But the Bullets were out-rebounded, 46-27, their worst pounding on the boards this season.
"That was the deciding factor in the game," Gugliotta said. "They didn't shoot very well from the perimeter. They just got second and third shots on us."
Helping in that area was reserve center Andrew Lang, who scored a season-high 17 points -- 13 in the second quarter. Lang had five offensive rebounds, many resulting in second-chance baskets. He hit eight of 12 shots from the field in 28 minutes.
"I thought Andrew was terrific," said Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens. "He came off the bench and gave us a tremendous lift. He was very active."
So was Adams, who had seven steals in the first quarter -- a team record for a quarter and tying a team record for a half last set by JohnLucas in 1981. But Adams, who made three of his steals on NBA steals leader Mookie Blaylock, didn't have a steal the rest of the game.
"I was able to get my hands on a lot of balls as they drove to the middle," Adams said. "All of us were playing aggressively in the first quarter. In the third quarter, they came out ready to play and we didn't."
The Bullets return home tonight to play the Orlando Magic, which has won six straight against Washington. Tuesday's win over the Charlotte Hornets has almost been forgotten as the Bullets once again try to get back to .500.
"Our team is still getting adjusted to each other. . . . We have a lot of new faces," Gugliotta said. "We've got a long way to go, but we have played some good games so far."
Opponent: Orlando Magic
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: This is the first of five meetings with the Magic, which won its second straight Tuesday, 120-107, over the Golden State Warriors to improve to 6-4. C Shaquille O'Neal leads the Magic in scoring (29.6 ppg), rebounding (11.1 rpg) and blocked shots (3.1 bpg). Rookie G Anfernee Hardaway, Orlando's first-round pick, averages 12.2 ppg and is coming off a season-high 23 points against Golden State. The Bullets, who lost at Atlanta last night, 124-108, have lost six straight against the Magic, including all four games last season.