Home, sweet, home. The Bullets, who have not played at Capital Centre since Jan. 28, meet the Portland Trail Blazers tonight in their first home game after a seven-game road trip, which began with an overtime loss in Portland and ended with a two-point loss in Detroit on Saturday.
Despite that inauspicious ending, it was a good trip for the Bullets, who won three -- including a victory that ended a 22-game Philadelphia homecourt winning streak.
"We played excellent ball," said Coach Gene Shue. "We had seven games away and lost two in overtime to Portland and Phoenix that we should have won. We had a chance to beat Seattle. That took us into Philadelphia. We just played terrific. We are much more confident. We think we can win. We're playing better fastbreak basketball, but we're under control. We're not nearly as wild as we were."
During the trip, Kevin Porter, who had 97 assists in seven games, became the second active player in the NBA to get 5,000 assists. "He's been a great influence on the team," Shue said. "Don Collins coming along has really helped. Greg Ballard's been playing great and so has Kevin Grevey." r
Collins had 18 points in 22 minutes in Philadelphia and has averaged 13.4 points in 18.2 minutes over the last five games. Grevey has averaged 27.5 points in the last four games and Ballard averaged 19.3 points and 7.5 rebounds for the seven games on the road.
"Philadelphia was a culmination of things that were happening before," Shue said. "The team was playing good for a long time. We were 10 of 11 prior to the All-Star break. Then we had the layoff and didn't know what would happen. We came back and played good basketball. The playoffs are certainly within reach now. It is a realistic goal."
The Bullets still trail the Chicago Bulls by 1 1/2 games in the race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In the next two weeks, the Bullets must face two division leaders, Philadelphia and Milwaukee (the latter twice, home and away), and the New York Knicks, the team with the fourth-best record in the conference (also home and away), as well as the Bulls.
Shue says "every game now is so important," but with a schedule like that, tonight's game against the Trail Blazers, who are 8-22 on the road, is more meaningful than most.
The Blazers, who are a game ahead of Houston in the race for the last Western Conference playoff spot, are not the same team that beat the Bullets, 111-104, on Feb. 3.
Billy Ray Bates, who came off the bench to score 24 points, is still a reserve. But, after Friday night's 162-143 loss to Denver, the most points ever given up by the Blazers, Portland Coach Jack Ramsey decided to make some changes. Mychal Thompson is starting at center instead of Tom Owens; Calvin Natt is starting at forward instead of Bob Gross, and former American University all-America Kermit Washington is starting at the other forward spot instead of Thompson.