Rookie Ledell Eackles filled in nicely for Malone, but the outcome was determined more by the way the Bullets' bench and the Sixers' defense played.
The Bullets, at 30-33, are two games behind the Boston Celtics and 4 1/2 games in back of the Sixers in the race for the seventh and eighth spots in the Eastern Conference draw.
"They're still behind, aren't they?" said Charles Barkley, making sure not to let last night's victory count for too much. "That's a good place for them."
Barkley and Hersey Hawkins led the Sixers with 24 points each, but foul trouble slowed Hawkins in the first half and Barkley struggled mostly by his own doing.
Both men - Barkley scoring 18 points and Hawkins getting 16 - poured it on in the second half to try to ignite a rally, but it seemed that whatever the Sixers gained on offense, they surrendered on defense.
Bernard King flogged the Sixers with 31 points, but it was reserves such as Steve Colter (16 points), Mark Alarie (17) and John Williams (22) who seemed to snuff the life out of each Philadelphia comeback attempt.
Williams, a former starter who is brought off the bench strategically, is expected to get his share, but Colter, a former Sixer, and Alarie were heartbreakers and game-takers.
"Bernard obviously was a problem," said Sixers coach Jim Lynam, "but I thought Alarie and Colter both hurt us. Colter and Alarie had timely field goals in terms of stopping some of our runs."
The last such occasion came after Hawkins made a key steal and dribbled in for a layup to cut the Bullets' lead to 115-110 with 1 minute, 2 seconds left.
Alarie came back with a layup and the sudden rush of hope the Sixers had harbored following Hawkins' big-league play was shattered.
"It's been the key to our success," said Alarie, speaking of how the Bullets have had different players rise to the occasion. "You usually have one or two guys that come up to give the spark. With our team, it's not usually the same people."
It was a treat for the the 14,117 fans at the Capital Centre and a confidence builder for the Bullets to send the Sixers (35-29) away empty- handed.
For the Sixers, who came into the game with three victories in their last four road games, it was a stark contrast to the spirited victory over New York on Thursday, which halted the Knicks' 26-game Madison Square Garden winning streak.
"It would have been nice to win tonight," said Hawkins, "especially since the Knicks have lost twice. Now we have to take care of our own games and let the others worry."
Maurice Cheeks had 21 points, his fourth straight big-scoring performance, Mike Gminski had 15 and Ron Anderson brought 12 off the bench. But offense wasn't the problem.
The problem was a defense as leaky as a washerless faucet.
The Bullets shot 53.9 percent with Alarie hitting seven of his eight shots and Colter hitting six of eight.
In contrast, Barkley, one of the league's leaders in field-goal percentage, hit only seven of 20 shots from the field and was abysmal from the foul line with a 10-of-17 count.
"We played him pretty tough," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld, speaking on whether his team's defense bothered Barkley or whether it was just one of those off nights that plague all-star players, "but it's probably a combination of both."
Barkley had 11 rebounds, but the Sixers were beaten on the boards as a team.
The Bullets, with King getting 10 boards, outrebounded the Sixers, 46-38.
"They're playing very well," said Lynam of the Bullets. "They had a terrific comeback win (Friday night at New Jersey) when they came from 21 down."
A comeback was something the Bullets didn't need last night.