Their ranks are thin and they are starting to labor a bit, but the Washington Bullets, with 10 games remaining, are still in position to finish in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and gain the home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Coach Dick Motta doesn't even think about injured forward Bob Dandridge anymore. He knows that his team will go only as far as Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Greg Ballard can carry it.
Those three are playing more than 40 minutes a game. That probably won't change today when the Bullets play host to the New York Knicks at Capital Centre at 2 p.m.
The only available front-court substitutes are Dave Corzine and Lawrence Boston, but neither has been very productive of late.
In the last three games, Corzine has played a total of eight minutes, scoring four points and collecting two rebounds.
Boston has played a total of 17 minutes in the last three games, with only only 10 points and three rebounds.
Mitch Kupchak remains on the injured list with a bad back. He probably will stay there the rest of the season.
Dandridge, of course, has a calf injury.He didn't suit up Friday after playing two straight games following an absence of 12.
"I can't count on Bobby," Motta said. "If he plays, great; we'll have to get along without him."
The Bullets conceivably could move into a virtual tie for fourth place today. At 34-38 they trail the 36-38 Knicks by a game and San Antonio, 35-38, by a half game with the Spurs visiting New Jersey this afternoon. Houston is .001 ahead of Washington with a 35-39 log and has a road date today at Detroit.
Indiana lurks one game behind the Bullets but plays in Atlanta, where the Hawks are exceedingly tough, in the Pacer bid for one of the conference's six playoff berths.
The Bullets snapped a two-game losing streak Friday night when they beat Houston, 92-85, at Capital Centre.
Unseld played a superb all-around game, pulled down a season-high 23 rebounds and took Moses Malone out of his game with his physical defense. Unseld also had seven assists and 10 points in 43 minutes.
"We haven't played that smart lately, but we've played hard," Unseld said.
As a reward for his effort against Malone, Unseld now gets to match up against seven-foot New York rookie Bill Cartwright.
Cartwright is averaging 22.3 points a game and shooting 54 percent from the field. He also is second in the league in minutes played.
"I've never had to worry about scoring," Cartwright said. "If that means getting the ball to the open man, then that's what I try to do first."
Michael Ray Richardson is the only player to lead the league in two statistical categories. The 6-5 New York guard is first in assists with 9.8 a game and first in steals with 3.3.