The Washington Bullets can start thinking seriously about catching San Antonio in the NBA Central Division race if they can sweep their tow games on the road starting here tonight.
After meeting the limping Rockets - who are without Rudy Tomjanovich, Moses Malone and, probably, Mike Newlin - Washington travels to San Antonio for a Saturday night show-down with the Spurs that should bring out playoff intensity. Both games will be telecast on WDCA-TV 20.
The Spurs, once in charge of the division, have made things interesting again by stumbling slightly in the past two weeks, at a time when the Bullets began playing better.
Washington is five games out of first place (four in the loss column) with 14 to go. If the Bullets win both road games this weekend, they'd be only 3 1/2 back going into the final month of the season, and they have a much more favorable schedule than San Antonio.
"It will be tough to catch them but it can be done," said Coach Dick Motta, who said a month ago that a San Antonio slump was the only way his club could get back into the race.
"We found out we could play with them that night," he said "Before, they had beaten us so soundly at their place that we had some doubts. But that all changed with our win."
San Antonio, which lost a game of its lead Wednesday night by falling to Seattle at home, is what Houston coach Tom Nissalke calls "a soft teams." He means they don't always play with the same intensity.
The Spurs will have to be more consistent in their final 17 games. Their closing schedule is difficult for two reasons: 10 games are on the road and eight of their opponents have better than 500 records.
In contrast, the Bullets play 11 of their remaining 19 contests at Capital Centre. Of those 19, 11 are against below.500 clubs, including the Nets (two), Indiana, Kansas City and Houston.
If the Bullets win Saturday the race could become especially tight in the next 10 days. In that span, San Antonio plays at Portland and Seattle before coming home to host Los Angeles, currently the league's hottest team, and Denver. The Bullets have only one road game (against Chicago) sandwiched around Capital Centre meetings with Seattle, Indiana, Milwaukee and Boston.
The Spurs can all but finish off Washington with a victory Saturday, followed by triumphs in eight of their last 16 games. That would give them a 49-33 final record. To equal that mark, the Bullets would have to win 15 of their 17 contests.
Motta fears that his players are ripe for an upset by Houston, which was overwhelmed by the Bullets Sunday afternoon at Capital Centre.
"Houston played well against us the first half," he said. "That should have shown us they are still a good team. We can't overlook them or take them too lightly."
The Bullets also have had a habit this season of losing to down trodden opponents. They've been defeated twice by Indiana, once by Kansas City, once by Buffalo and once by the Nets.
Larry Wright, out two games because of wrist, is expected to play tonight ... The Bullets have won five of their last six and need a 14-5 record the remainder of the schedule to equal last year's 48-34 mark. . .The Knicks play only seven of their last 17 games in Madison Square Garden. Their position in the playoffs probably will be determined by March 30. They end a stretch of games that includes meetings at home against Los Angeles. Philadelphia, Denver and Washington, and on the road against Philly, Denver, Phoenix and Golden State.