The pressure associated with being the best team in the NBA might be catching up to the Washington Bullets. They played tentatively against Milwaukee last night, finally handing a double overtime victory to the Bucks by blowing three opportunities to win the game.
The Bullets had the last shot of regulation and the final two possessions in the first overtime, but couldn't score on any of the chances. Milwaukee took advantage of these gifts by breaking away in the second extra preiod for a 134-126 triumph at Capital Centre before 14,686.
Larry Wright was involved in each of the Bullet failures. He couldn't convert a short dumper just before the buzzer ended the fourth quarter and then he missed a long shot and tossed away a pass in the final 10 seconds of the first overtime.
"Milwaukee is relaxed. They have nothing to gain this season," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "We are still going for the best record and we aren't playing relaxed. We were a little tentative out there.
"I'd rether be playing contenders right now. The rest of them are looking to next year already."
Wright wasn't the only Bullet culprit. Washington guards were only 13 of 44 from the field and this poor marksmansip, which included a bunch of near air balls, wasted marvelous individual performances by Bob Dandridge, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.
Dandridge scored 33 points, including 15 in the final 22 minutes. Unseld added 25 points and 20 rebounds and Hayes had 20 points and 21 rebounds before fouling out in the first overtime.
The Bullets rebounded well enough to win a couple of games. They pulled down a season-high 74 missed shots, 19 more than Milwaukee, but shot just 40 percent to wipe put that huge board advantage.
Yet Washington still should have walked away with their 46th victory against a team which had won only one of its last 11 road games.
After Milwaukee missed two shots with 30 seconds left in regulation, the Bullets played for the last shot. Wright finally took it, an open 10-footer from the right side, but it would not fall.
In the first overtime, Washington had the ball with the score tied at 118 and 41 seconds left. Milwaukee played good defense and Wright was forced to throw up a 25-footer just before the 24-second clock expired. It missed, but Unseld pulled down the rebound and now the club could wait for a last-second attempt.
This time, they went with their bread-and-butter play, a pick and roll between Unseld and Wright. Wright dribbled to the right of the key past an Unseld pick. Unseld then rolled to the basket and was open temporarily before Marques Johnson stepped in the way and interecepted Wright's pass.
"We had the right shots to win it twice in overtime," said Coach Dick Motta. "When you have them, you can't miss them.
"We were tired. But I didn't have a lot of people I could turn to and that hurt us."
Motta lost Hayes on fouls, Tom Henderson dressed for the first half but didn't play on his bad ankle and Greg Ballard came up with a first-period knee injury. Motta would up going most of the way with seven players.
According to a Bullet spokesman, Ballerd's injury did not appear serious.. He twisted his knee slightly but returned briefly in the second half.
Motta could have used some extra hands in the second overtime. From a 120-all tie, Milwaukee gained control by scoring six straight points around two Bullet misses and a three-second call.
Moments later, a basket by Dandridge had Washington to within four. Lloyd Walton than failed on a jumper for Milwaukee, Dandridge grabbed the rebound and fed Charles Johnson with a long pass. Johnson couldn't get off a layup, so he whirled for a six-footer and missed. He then fouled Bridgeman on the rebound, the Buck forward made both free throws and the game was over.
The Bullets run into another alsoran tonight when they paly at Cleveland (8:05 p.m., WDCA-TV-20). Motta said the Cavaliers "already are playing four rookies a lot. They are looking forward to next season."
Milwaukee survived a horrible seven-for-23 shooting effort by guard Brian Winters, normally a reliable marksman. And Marques Johnson did not have one of his better games either, going 10 for 26 and scoring just 11 of his 21 points through three quarters.
But no Bullet could give Dandridge and Unseld any help down the stretch. Shots were being pulled, passes were tossed away and few played with any intensity.
The backcourt play was especially troublesome. Kevin Grevey was six of 17 and registered all 16 of his points before intermission. Wright made five of 15 attempts and had just two of his 13 points in the final 22 minutes. Johnson missed 10 of 12 shots and scored only four points.
Milwaukee was able to stay competitive thanks to a fine effort by its bench. Bridgeman finished with 23 points and four other subs combined for 40 points, compared to 19 from the Bullet reserves.