All along, Coach Doug Moe has been telling his Denver Nuggets that the key to winning the Midwest Division was to do their best on the road but make sure to win at home.
The Nuggets took Moe at his word and have run off a string of 17 victories in a row at home. Until this trip, their best on the road wasn't quite good enough most of the time.
But Mike Evans came off the bench to score eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter Friday night at East Rutherford, N.J., to lead the Nuggets to a 123-111 win over the New Jersey Nets. The second victory in a row on their final trip East enabled the Nuggets to stretch their lead over Houston to 4 1/2 games.
The Nuggets, winners over Indiana Wednesday night, conclude the short trip with a game Sunday against the slumping Philadelphia 76ers. After that they will play six of their next seven at home.
Evans made two three-pointers in the last quarter and made a decisive two-pointer with five minutes left. The Nets had rallied behind Buck Williams to cut the lead to 105-104. But Evans sank a 19-footer, Alex English made two free throws, and T.R. Dunn hit a jumper to put the game out of reach.
"I've said all along that we have to win at home and get what we can on the road," Moe said. "I've really enjoyed these last two. It's fun to win on the road. It makes it easier when you have a bunch of unselfish players."
On their previous trip, the Nuggets were shut out in a three-game tour of Texas. With 12 games remaining, they have a 45-25 record. Last season they won only 38.
It was another good night for the Nuggets' Portland contingent. Calvin Natt had 23 points, Lafayette Lever 18 and Wayne Cooper 15 points and 14 rebounds. The three came to the Nuggets from the Blazers in the Kiki Vandeweghe trade.
"Riley said they are going to catch us (for the league's best record)," Coach K.C. Jones said. "That should be enough motivation for us to keep playing hard."
Larry Bird doesn't need motivation. Bird, sinking 16 of 28 shots, scored 36 points, had 8 rebounds and 15 assists in the game at Boston.
Cedric Maxwell, after missing 14 games with a knee injury, played the last minute for the Celtics.
Milwaukee 131, Philadelphia 112--Moses Malone returned to action at Philadelphia, but he couldn't bring the 76ers out of their slump. In 35 minutes, Malone, who had missed three games because of a sprained ankle, had 22 points and 12 rebounds.
But 6-7 forward Charles Davis came off the bench to score 23 points in 17 minutes and pace the Bucks to an easy victory. Davis scored all his points in the second and third quarters. He was 9 of 11 from the field.
While his 76ers were losing their third in a row and dropping five games behind the Celtics, Coach Billy Cunningham vented his anger on the basketball. With 10 minutes left, his team down by 12 points and referee Bruce Alexander about to pick up the ball, Cunningham gave it a kick and was ejected. Cunningham did not stay around for postgame interviews.
Davis scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the second quarter in a 20-5 Milwaukee spurt that enabled the Bucks to take control and keep it.
Kansas City 121, Atlanta 102--Eddie Johnson scored 12 points in the fourth quarter at Atlanta and finished with 33 as the improving Kings kept the Hawks from tying Cleveland for the final playoff spot in the East. The Kings have won eight of their last 11 games.
The Kings and Hawks have identical 27-43 records, but while Atlanta battles for a playoff spot, the Kings are almost eliminated.
Dallas 123, San Antonio 114--Mark Aguirre scored 31 points at San Antonio to lead the Mavericks. The victory put the Mavericks only one game behind Houston in the battle for second place in the Midwest Division.
The game was tied, 99-99, with 5:29 left, but Spurs assistant Scotty Robertson was hit with a technical for protesting that George Gervin had been fouled on a breakaway. Aguirre sank the free throw and Dallas was never headed.
New York 118, Indiana 113--Marvelous Bernard King scored 45 points--16 in the last quarter--to lead the Knicks to the victory at Indianapolis.
Utah 110, Seattle 85--Adrian Dantley, who scored 27 points, scored 13 in the third quarter at Seattle to help break open a close game. The Sonics dropped two games behind Phoenix in the battle for the last playoff spot in the West.