The Philadelphia 76ers, responding to criticism from Coach Billy Cunningham, jumped in front early Tuesday night at New York and coasted to their 12th consecutive victory, 93-82 over the Knicks.
Moses Malone, taking advantage of the Knicks' problems at center, scored 32 points and keyed a tough defense. The Knicks, again without injured Bernard King, the league's leading scorer, had their lowest scoring output of the season and lost for the 11th time in the last 12 games.
The one bright spot for the Knicks was a three-point shooting record for Trent Tucker. Tucker sank his 10th consecutive long range shot, breaking the record set by Dale Ellis of Dallas earlier this season.
Although the 76ers have won 16 of their last 17 games to pull into a tie with Boston for the best record in the NBA (32-6), Cunningham has not been happy with the way they have been doing it. He has been "very concerned" with the way they have been falling behind early and having to rally in the closing minutes to win.
"We're getting into a habit where we think we can turn it around anytime we want to, and that's not a good habit," Cunningham said.
The significance of the statement is that it shows a change in Cunningham's philosophy. A year ago--after the 76ers had won the NBA championship the spring before--the 76ers were playing the same way. They were barely beating teams they should have beaten easily.
At the time, Cunningham said he wasn't concerned, he was just glad they were winning. Maybe when the 76ers were unable to turn it on in the playoffs, Cunningham had a change of heart.
"I would like to see us get off the blocks and get ahead earlier in the game," Cunningham said. "I'm going to push for this until I get them to do it."
One game later, they did. Midway through the second quarter, Maurice Cheeks scored eight points in a 16-6 spurt that gave the 76ers the lead for good. They improved the lead to 77-61 in the third quarter and coasted home.
Atlanta 120, Indiana 113--Dominique Wilkins scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half at Indianapolis to lead the Hawks to their third win in a row over the Pacers. Wilkins sank a 10-foot jumper with five minutes left to give the Hawks the lead for good, 103-102.
The Hawks lost center Tree Rollins because of back spasms late in the first quarter, but 7-0 rookie Kevin Willis grabbed 10 rebounds in 30 minutes to take up the slack.
Cleveland 116, Kansas City 112--The Cavaliers, trailing, 97-89, after three quarters at Kansas City, used a tight defense to turn the game around and hand the Kings their fifth loss in a row.
The Cavaliers held the Kings to 15 points in 12 minutes and without a field goal in the last five minutes.
San Antonio 121, Utah 101--Rookie Alvin Robertson scored 10 of his 27 points in a 20-0 third-quarter run at San Antonio that led the Spurs to an easy victory.
Dallas 149, Golden State 104--The Warriors (10-27) have the worst record in the NBA, but in this game at Oakland they outdid themselves. The Mavericks went in front early and turned it into a rout before halftime.
Portland 121, Houston 117--Jim Paxson scored 12 of his 40 points in the third quarter at Portland when the Trail Blazers built a 96-85 lead. The Rockets lost despite 32 points for Ralph Sampson and 29 for Akeem Olajuwon. Sampson also had 11 rebounds.