With three victories in a row, the Washington Bullets, not so long ago written off for the National Basketball Association playoffs, suddenly find themselves in position to overtake New York and Indiana.
Even Houston and San Antonio could be passed in the last 20 games of the season, giving the Bullets a shot at finishing fourth best in the Eastern Conference.
The top six teams in the conference advance to the playoffs. Though the Bullets are only eighth in the East, they are only two games behind the Knicks and Pacers, 2 1/2 behind the Rockets and four back of the Spurs.
While the Bullets play 11 of their last 20 games in Capital Centre, the other four teams will play most of their remaining games on the road.
The Bullets have two games left with New York, two with Houston, two with San Antonio and one with Indiana.
"You hate to say that our destiny is in our own hands now, because it has been since day one of training camp, but all of our remaining games are against Eastern opponents and we haved the home-court advantage and everything going for us," said Coach Dick Motta.
"The only teams in our conference definitely in (the playoffs) are Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta," Motta said. "The other five teams are going after the remaining three spots.
"The only things that can stop us from doing well the rest of the season are injuries and bad attitudes. We can't do anything about injuries, but I think our attitudes are all fine."
The Bullets still could use Bob Dandridge down the stretch, but they have given up waiting for -- and depending on -- him.
Most of the players have taken the attitude that if Dandridge's pulled calf muscle improves and he can help, fine; if he does not play again, they will get by without him.
"That's the only way we can look at it," one player said.
Dandridge is not expected to play Wednesday in Houston or against the Rockets Thursday in Capital Centre.
"Every game we play now is critical," Mota said, "but this is a chance to make up two games on one of the teams ahead of us. So these two are especially important. I think we're ready to really turn it on now.
"We've started the same team for the last 10 games now and that's the first time we've been able to do that all season. Everyone knows his role and everyone is playing hard. We still have to catch two teams, though, and not just one, and that could be tough."
Of the two division winners from each conference, the one with the best record is seeded No. 1 in the playoffs, the other No. 2 regardless of its record. The remaining four seedings are determined by won-lost records. Teams No. 1 and No. 2 get first-round byes while No. 3 plays No. 6 and No. 4 plays No. 5 in best-of-three series. The winner of the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series plays No. 2 and the other first-round winner meets No. 1 in best-of-seven semifinal series. Those winners play for the conference championship.
The honest-court advantage always goes to the team with the best record.
The playoff picture in the West is a bit more settled than in the East. Seattle, Los Angeles Phoenix, Kansas City and Milwaukee all should make the playoffs with ease, with San Diego and Portland battling for the last spot.