The Washington Bullets could take that elusive step into the air-important sixth spot in the Eastern Conference Sunday by beating the Boston Celtics -- currently the best team in professional basketball.
The bullets trail the slumping sixth-place San Antonio Spurs by a half-game in the race for the last playoff spot in the conference.
Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Bullets have a 32-36 record.
The Spurs, losers of seven in a row, are 33-36.
San Antonio faces the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday in San Antonio, and a Spur loss to the 76ers, coupled with a Bullet victory, would put Washington one-half game ahead of the Spurs.
"I said three weeks ago that we had to catch two teams to get into the playoffs and that if would be difficult," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta today in Detroit, where his team was stranded, 3 1/2 hours because of snow. "But we've had a lot more help than I expected we would."
Indeed. The Indiana Pacers, one of the teams the Bullets had to pass to gain the playoffs, have lost six in a row and fallen 1/2 games behind the Bullets, into eighth place.
The Bullets played badly, but still beat Detroit, 106-105, Friday night thanks to Larry Wright's two free throws in the final minute. But the Pistons are not the Celtics.
Boston's 53-15 record is the best in the league. The club has won nine games in a row and 13 of the last 15.
Friday night, the Celtics scored a convincing 111-92 victory over the 76ers, giving them a three-game lead in the battle for the best record in the conference.
"This is a gravy game for us," Motta said. "It would be a nice win for us because theoretically we aren't supposed to win."
The last time the Bullets played in the Boston Garden, they beat the Celtics, 118-107, and Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes each scored 25 points. cThe Celtics have lost at home only four times this season.
But Boston was without Dave Cowens that game and his replacement, Ricky Robey, sustained a leg injury early in the game.
The two had a rematch a week later at Capital Centre, though, and Boston won, 119-103.
"I think there are three teams, that could win it all this year," Motta said, "and Boston is one of them, along with L.A. and Seattle. Boston could be the closest thing in the league to a dynasty. They'll get the first or second pick in the draft this year so you know they're going to get a great player."
There is a slight chance that injured forward Bob Dandridge will oin the bullets in time for today's game, but the Bullets aren't counting on him.
After the Boston game, the Bullets will have 13 games left, in 20 days. Those include two games with the 76ers, two with the Knicks, one with the Celtics, two with the Spurs and two with the Atlanta Hawks.