The Washington Bullets played as hard and probably as well as they can play tonight. They still came up short against the San Antonio Spurs, 100-94, and had their playoff hopes severely damaged.
The defeat, the Bullets' fourth in five games, dropped them 1 1/2 games behind idle Houston in the scramble for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Spurs, having won four of five after losing eight in a row, are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Bullets, in fifth place.
The Spurs won the season series against the Bullets, 4-2, so if these two teams tie, the Spurs will go to the playoffs.
Tonight's defeat puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Washington going into Wednesday's game against the Altanta Hawks at the Omni.
"The way I look at it, this is it," said center Wes Unseld, who had 15 points and 25 rebounds tonight. "The next two games will decide if we make the playoffs or not."
After facing the Hawks Wednesday, the Bullets come home to play the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday at Capital Centre. After those two games, they will have only six remaining.
The Bullets' lack of depth was glaring tonight.
Elvin Hayes, who scored 43 points Sunday against the New York Knicks and was averaging 29 the last nine games, fouled out with only 12 points.
When Hayes left, with 7:47 remaining in the final period, the Bullets were down only four points at 82-78. The Spurs scored the next four points, but still the Bullets kept scratching. Down 95-84 with 3:30 remaining, they scored eight points to close to 95-92 with 40 seconds left. But James Silas made one free throw and George Gervin, who led the Spurs with 33 points, made two to ice the victory.
The Bullets got outstanding scoring performances from Kevin Grevey and Greg Ballard.
Grevey, playing both guard and forward, scored 27 points and made three of five three-point shots. Ballard had 26 points.
Uncharacteristically, the Bullets tried pressing on defense, using traps and double teams and other gimicks to keep the Spurs off balance.
"They worked so we stayed with them," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta.
"We can't play any harder," said Grevey. "We helped each other out on defense and everything. We just got tired down the stretch. We're all exhausted and it shows."
The Bullets' game is to force the ball inside and wear down the other team. But without Bob Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak they don't have the depth to do that anymore, although they keep trying.
San Antonio kept bringing in fresh troops and dealt out some punishment of its own.
"We had playoff intensity tonight," said San Antonio Coach Bob Bass. "Our guys really battled defensively. We got in and mixed it up."
The Spurs seriously damaged the Bullets in the second quarter when a 15-2 spurt carried San Antonio from a 22-21 deficit to a 36-24 lead. The Spurs never trailed again.
The Bullets already had started to tire so Motta went to his bench very early. He had used every player available before the quarter was half over.
Bass was using his reserves, too, and his were better.
Wiley Peck, Paul Griffin, Kevin Restani and Mike Gale sparked that 15-2 spurt Peck, a rockie from Mississippi State had five of the points.
The key play of that San Antonio rally came with nine minutes left in the period and the Spurs up by four.
The Bullets fumbled the ball and, as it rolled on the floor, the 6-foot-10 Restani dived between two surprised Bullets and batted the ball upcourt to Gervin. He scored on a breakway.
"When they can bring in fresh guys, it sure helps," said a drained Unseld.
"It has to have an effect when fresh guys are coming in and you're out there tired," added Ballard.
"When we lost Elvin we were down to just Greg at forward," Motta said. "We did the best we could."
The Bullets were not talking like a team that is through however.
"Tomorrow is a must," said Hayes. "The last couple of years when our backs were against the wall is when we played our best basketball. We'll see if that's still true."
The game in Atlanta will be televised on WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30 p.m.
Kevin Porter sprained his ankle in tonight's fourth period and is doubtful for that game.