The Atlanta Hawks turned their offense over to their guards, who penetrated and swished long-range jumpers to subdue Washington, 103-102, despite a Bullet rally in the final two minutes tonight.
Guards Armond Hill (24 points), Eddie Johnson (16) and Terry Furlow (16) combined to make 25 of 49 shots and hand off 17 assists to offset poor scoring from the Hawks' inside players.
It was Atlanta's 16th straight win in the Omni, which had its second sellout (15,641) of the season.
If Washington can beat Houston in a 7:30 game at Capital Centre Sunday night, the Hawks, who have finished their season with a 46-36 record, would have the home-court advantage over the Rockets in the miniseries. The winner of that round would play Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Bullets, playing for what Coach Dick Motta said was the "integrity of the league," put on a fine show for the Hawk fans despite not having Larry Wright, Mitch Kupchak or Bob Dandridge, who dressed but decided to rest his sore neck and back.
After falling behind by 14 points in the first half, Washington rallied behind 15 points by Elvin Hayes, who had 29 for the game, to grab the lead in the third quarter.
But Atlanta, using its sticky defense to force three turnovers, ran off a 10-3 streak in the fourth quarter and looked as if it would pull away behind the shooting of Furlow, whose six baskets during the period all were from beyond 20 feet.
Washington made one last bid. Trailing, 101-91, the Bullets outscored Atlanta, 11-2, to pull within 103-102 with 30 seconds to go. Charles Johnson, who loves to shoot under pressure, scored the last four baskets to stir up the home crowd.
After a timeout, Atlanta let Hill control the ball near midcourt with Johnson guarding him. "We decided to play for a last shot even though there were 30 seconds left," said Coach Hubie Brown. "If they played us honest on defense, and they did, we thought Hill could beat his man on the dribble and go down the middle.
"If he did that, they'd have to pick him up with one of their inside men and we'd have rebounding position, so if we missed, we'd get the rebound."
The play worked exactly as Brown had hoped. With 10 seconds left, Hill faked and went around Johnson and drove down the lane. Hayes had to try to stop him and when Hill's layup missed, Dan Roundfield, taking advantage of Hayes' absence, got the rebound and the clock ran out.
Hill had a particularly effective third quarter when he used both jumpers and drives to score 11 points. He has averaged only 10 points on the year, but without his output in the period, the Bullets might have been able to grab enough control to win.
Furlow, who came over midway through this season in a trade with Cleveland for Burch Lee, is Atlanta's best perimeter shooter. He was uncanny in the fourth quarter, making six straight shots despite decent defense from Washington.
Johnson did his damage in the first period, when he pumped in 14 points while the Hawks were en route to playing what Brown called "an excellent half." He wasn't exaggerating. His team shot 52 percent before intermission, caused seven turnovers an grabbed a 54-43 lead.
The Bullets got a big boost in the third from the return of guard Tom Henderson, who had been out with a sprained knee the last two weeks.
Henderson, saying he surprised even himself, moved freely in the middle of numerous Washington fast breaks and scored nine of his 13 points to help out the magnificent Hayes.
"It hurt a little but I could do most of the things I wanted," said Henderson. "I had to pace myself a little but the important thing is, I know I'll be ready for the playoffs."
Motta, however, couldn't do everything he wanted with the team. With Dandridge and Kupchak sidelined, he had to use Kevin Grevey for brief moments at small forward. Grevey, who made only four of 12 shots, eventually foulded out.
"There might have been a few things I would have done differently in the stretch," said Motta. "If I had Dandridge and Mitch and Larry, you have a different team."
Atlanta and Washington split four games this year, each winning once on the road. Two contests were decided by four points, one by two points and tonight's by one.