LANDOVER -- They were two teams that made drastic changes in the off season -- changes that improved both tremendously. And after the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers played down to the wire on opening night, one could have assumed that a healthy rivalry was in the midst of being formed.
So much for rivalries.
Instead of a fourth quarter battle between Jerry Stackhouse and Calbert Cheaney, what the crowd got over the final 12 minutes was Tim Legler against some guy named Elmer Bennett. In other words, extended garbage time was witnessed by all at the USAir Arena last night as the Bullets wasted the Sixers, 127-95.
It's a shame because the blowout was the only thing that kept Robert Pack from his first triple-double of the season as the Bullets point guard finished the night with 26 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Juwan Howard had 21 points (including his first career three-pointer) and eight rebounds, Calbert Cheaney 15 points and Gheorghe Muresan 10 points and eight rebounds.
Sharone Wright scored a career-high 30 points, but don't at all think he dominated the game. A starter for Philadelphia last night, Wright was forced to endure the final 12 minutes not watching from the bench but playing on the floor.
Stackhouse, the rookie sensation who came into the game averaging 24.8 points a game, finished the night with nine points in 24 minutes.
So surprised were the fans with the Bullets' blowout that most stayed to the very end. And who could blame them. The biggest margin of victory for Washington all of last season was 13 points, in a win over the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 11.
Washington lost to the Sixers on opening night, but Philadelphia last night was without Clarence Weatherspoon (torn right quadriceps) and Pack had several weeks to pick up the system. The difference between opening day and last night was obvious in the first half when the Bullets shot 52.0 percent from the field on the way to a 65-43 halftime lead.
The lead was accomplished with the Bullets led by Pack pushing the ball upcourt on every opportunity. In the first half, Washington had 23 fast-break points, with Pack, second in the league in assists going into last night, picking up eight assists in 19 first-half minutes.
Washington never trailed in the first half after a jumper by Robert Maxwell gave Philadelphia a 4-2 lead less than a minute into the game. The Bullets then went on a 12-2 run. Four different players scored during the run to give the Bullets a 14-6 lead after a jumper by Pack with 8:20 left.
Twice the Sixers were able to get to within four points of the Bullets, the last coming after a short jumper by Wright had Philadelphia within 20-16 with 5:14 left.
But the Bullets, who scored 12 of their first 16 points of the game off the fast break, would end the quarter with a 13-5 run, taking a 33-21 lead into the second quarter.
And the first-half romp was on. Stackhouse, who scored 27 points against the Bullets on opening night, struggled throughout the first half. Stackhouse took just six shots in the half, scoring seven points.
Effectively putting the defensive clamps on Stackhouse, the Bullets were able to continue their offensive flow into the second quarter. Even with three reserves in the game, Washington was to increase its lead to 51-33 after a free throw by Rasheed Wallace with 5:07 left.
Things were going so well for the Bullets that Howard hit the first three-point field goal of his career with 3:26 left, giving Washington a 56-37 lead. Howard had missed seven three-point attempts last season, and one this year.
Howard would score 17 points (seven of eight from the field) to lead all scorers in the half. Pack added 14 points to go along with his eight assists. And the Bullets, holding Philadelphia to 39.5 percent shooting from the field in the half, had a 65-43 halftime lead.
And it would be more of the same in the third quarter. After a sloppily played first five minutes, the Bullets finally settled down,. and shot 60.0 percent in the quarter. After a layup by Brent Price just before the third-quarter buzzer, Washington had a 98-64 lead going into the final quarter.