It was billed as a battle between the only two teams in the East with a chance to unseat the champion Boston Celtics.
Although they lost NBA scoring champion Dominique Wilkins with an ankle injury in the first quarter, the Atlanta Hawks scored a 107-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night at Atlanta.
It was a year ago that Wilkins emerged as one of pro basketball's brightest young stars. With Wilkins as the catalyst, the Hawks became the league's most improved team.
In the first two games this season, Wilkins scored 75 points and the Hawks won them both. In this one, he had only one point when he was forced to leave. He missed all seven shots from the field.
Undaunted, the Hawks used a tight defense and the shooting of Randy Wittman and Kevin Willis to beat the Bucks. Wittman made 11 of 17 shots and scored 28 points, while Willis scored 23. Cliff Levingston, Wilkins' replacement, only scored 10 points, but he led all rebounders with 17 before fouling out after playing 34 minutes.
"Last year we couldn't have won a game when we lost our ace," Wittman said. "We are a little older and a little more experienced than we were then.
"I just try to be more aggressive offensively, when Dominique goes out. We don't need just one person to do the scoring. We showed that tonight. Our goal is to win the division and we have to beat the Bucks to do it."
Wilkins will be examined today after the swelling goes down.
The Bucks, who also won their first two games, made only 33 of 85 shots. Terry Cummings was only 3 for 13, and Jack Sikma was 4 for 11.
Chicago 111, San Antonio 104--It was another Michael Jordan show at Chicago, only this was a Late Show.
The Spurs held Jordan to eight points in the first half and built a 19-point lead in the second quarter. But Charles Oakley got the Bulls going late in the first half, and Jordan took over in the second half.
Jordan scored 16 of his 34 points in the last quarter, and the Bulls wiped out an 11-point deficit and won easily. His 15-foot jumper with 5:32 left broke a 100-100 tie, and the Spurs never got even again.
Houston 100, Sacramento 84--Akeem Olajuwon scored 26 points, and Jim Petersen grabbed 15 rebounds as the Rockets beat the Kings at Sacramento.
The Rockets, who never trailed, played without Ralph Sampson, who has an injured left ankle.
Sacramento point guard Reggie Theus suffered a fractured nose and facial injuries nine minutes into the game when he slammed head first into the backboard base while trying to block a shot by Rodney McCray. Theus, who averaged 29.0 points before the game, did not return.
Washington 102, New Jersey 101--There were only four seconds left at Landover, Md., when Jeff Malone threw up a prayer. His 20-foot fall-away jumper swished through the net, and the Bullets had a hard-earned first victory.
Moses Malone scored 32 points, half of them from the foul line, and had 11 rebounds to lead the Bullets, who blew an early 19-point lead.
Indiana 125, Philadelphia 121--John Long scored all 11 of his team's points in the second overtime at Indianapolis to lead the Pacers to victory and end up with a career-high 44 points.
Long's sharpshooting took some luster off a brilliant performance by Charles Barkley. The 76er star had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.
But, the 76ers, without burly Jeff Ruland, who is having knee problems, were outrebounded by the Pacers, 57-46.
Denver 118, New York 103--The Nuggets were without Calvin Natt and both centers, Wayne Cooper and Danny Schayes, at Denver, but the 0-4 Knicks couldn't handle Alex English.
English scored 38, and Bill Hanzlik, starting for the first time in nearly two years, had 24. The Knicks, with Bill Cartwright out because of another ankle injury, were led by rookie Kenny Walker, who had 18 points.
Phoenix 126, Portland 120--Larry Nance scored 23 of his 35 points in the second half at Phoenix as the Suns overcame a six-point halftime deficit. Nance was 12 for 16 from the field.
The Trail Blazers, winless in three games under new Coach Mike Schuler, were led by Kiki Vandeweghe with 23 points. But he had 17 of them in the first half.