"We need a miracle," said Washington Bullets Coach Dick Motta yesterday.
"We've been in trouble for most of the season, but we're in real trouble now," said center Wes Unseld. "It doesn't look good, does it?"
No, it doesn't. Their concern was over the plight of the Bullets, who are in increasing danger of missing the playoffs in the National Basketball Association for the first time in a dozen years.
Only six teams in the Eastern Conference will make it to the playoffs and going into tonight's game the Bullets are in seventh place, one game behind sixth place New York.
Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta sewed up their playoff berths long ago and the Bullets have been battling with San Antonio, Houston and New York for the last three spots for the last five weeks.
Then the Spurs made the playoffs with Tuesday's victory over Houston and last night's New York loss to Boston. San Antonio could not lose more games than the Bullets, over whom their 4-2 head-to-head advantage for the season would break a two-way tie.
Fourth-place San Antonio (40-40) lost to Houston last night while New York lost to Boston. That action lifted Houston (39-41) into fifth place and dropped the Knicks (39-42) into sixth.
The Bullets (37-42), idle last night, played the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight in Richfield, Ohio, (WDCA-TV-20, 8 p.m.)
In Bullet terms, this means that if the Knicks beat Philadelphia tonight, the Bullets will have to win all three of their remaining games to beat out New York. If the Knicks lose, the Bullets would only have to win two of three.
And if the Bullets are going to beat out Houston, the Rockets must lose at least one of their remaining two games and the Bullets win their three. If the Rockets win their final two games, the Bullets can't catch them.
The Cavcaliers have a slim chance of gaining the playoffs, but if they lose tonight, will be eliminated.
It is probable that everything won't be decided until Sunday, the final day of the season.
After tonight's game, the Bullets will play Atlanta Friday night at Capital Centre and the New Jersey Nets Sunday in Piscataway, N.J.
The Knicks will be the first to end their season, doing so tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Houston has an easy schedule remaining. The Rockets host Detroit Friday and conclude the regular season Sunday at Indiana.
If tie breakers are needed at the end of the regular season, the Bullets are in good shape. If they tie with Houston, they get the nod because they won the season series with the Rockets, 4-2. They would also win a tie with New York, even though they split the season series, 3-3, because the Bullets would have a better record within the conference, the second step in the tie-breaking procedure.
If Houston, Washington and New York finish in a three-way tie, Washington and Houston would get in because of their better records in competition among the three.
Boston (60-20) can clinch the best record in the conference Friday either by beating Cleveland or if Philadelphia (57-22) loses any one of its last three games.
Each division winner will get a bye in the first round of the playoffs, with the one with the best record being top-seeded.
The other four playoff teams will be seeded third through sixth, according to their record.
The third seed will play the sixth fifth seed in a best of three series in the first round of the playoffs.
The winner between Nos. 3 and 6 will play No. 2 in a best-of-seven series, while the other winner will play No. 1 in the other conference semifinal. The winners will meet in a best-of-seven series for the conference championship.
The team with the better record will have the home-court advantage in all series.
In the Western Conference, Los Angeles is assured of having the best record and will be seeded first. Milwaukee and Kansas City are battling for the Midwest Division crown and the second ranking. Seattle is in third place in the conference and Phoenix fourth and each has already clinched a playoff spot, as has the Midwest runner-up, either Milwaukee or Kansas City.
The next Portland victory or San Diego defeat will give the Trail Blazers the sixth and final playoff spot in the west.