The Washington Bullets kept their slim Central Division title hopes alive with a workmanlike 115-97 victory over the hapless New York Nets yesterday at Capital Centre.
Elvin Hayes snapped out of his two-game slump with 38 points, but it was rookie Mitch Kupchak who ignited the Bullets and kept them going. He scored 17 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and collected six of his 10 rebounds in the final period.
Division-leading Houston was idle yesterday so the magic number for the Rockets is still one. A Houston victory or Washington defeat in the final week of the season will give the title to the Rockets.
"This game had a tendency to be very depressing," Bullet coach Dick Motta said. "After Fridays' game, it had all the earmarks of a downer."
Motta was referring to Friday's game with Houston. The Rockets stormed to victory and virtually took the division championship.
"We had a natural letdown after what happened Friday," Kupchak said. "But luckily we had a home game to snap out of it."
The Bullets needed a victory to perk them up, and there's no better pigeon in the National Basketball Association than the Nets.
They have the worst record in the league and have now lost 12 in a row and 15 of their last 16.
"New York was free and loose because they aren't under any pressure," Kupchak said.
New York uses a full court press and plays a tough, half-court zone defense to try to hide individual weaknesses.
Robert (Bubbles) Hawkins floated his way to 26 points and former McKinley Tech star Tim Bassett added a career-high 24 points to keep the Nets within striking distance most of the game.
The Bullets never really pulled away, but always seemed to have enough firepower when needed.
Hayes gave Washington a 12-point lead at 102-90 with 5:45 to play but the Nets then went to that full-court press and forced three straight turnovers - bad passes by Kupchak, Kevin Grefey and Bob Weiss.
The Nets converted the miscues into five points, three of them by Hawkins and trailed by only seven, at 102-95 with 4:52 to play.
Motta quickly hustled Tom Henderson. Wes Unseld and Phil Chenier back into the game.
Washington went on to outscore the New Yorkers 13-2 the rest of the game and win going away. Kupchak had six of his points and blocked two shots in that stretch.
Kupchak, who went into the game second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in shooting percentage, made seven of nine from the field for the game and was six for six in the final period.
"If you play enough there will be spurts when things go you way," Kupchak said. "I got some good passes and the shots I made weren't all that hard.
"Elvin played uper today, too. He is very important to this team," Kupchak added.
Indeed he is. The Bullets got the effort from him today they didn't get against the Rockets Friday.
In addition to his game-high 38 points, Hayes added 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocked shots.He played the entire 48 minutes.
Chenier looked as if he may be coming out of his slump. In the seven games prior to yesterday, he had scored a total of 88 points and has shot 38 per cent. He made nine of 19 shots and had five assists yesterday.
The Bullets played without rookie guard Larry Wright. Wright sprained his left ankle in the Houston game and was not suited up. The Bullets hope he will make the trip to Cleveland for Tuesday's game against the Cavaliers.
The Bullets have four games remaining. After the Cleveland game, they will play Chicago at Capital Centre Wednesday and then home-and-home games with the 76ers Saturday at the Spectrum and Sunday at Capital Centre. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Bullets work for an easy basket on a fast break set up as Wes Unseld passes to Dave Bing, who is about to catch the ball and relay it to Mitch Kupchals alone near the basket. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Elvin Hayes gets inside the defense of Bubbles Hawkins of the Nets and stuffs a two-pointer for the Bullets. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post