Bullet center Rick Mahorn said he can remember the hard times earlier this season when his team "used to lose all the close games because we didn't know how to execute under pressure."
At the moment, that's all changed. The Bullets executed perfectly in the final minutes against Portland Tuesday night to defeat the Trail Blazers, 100-97. It was their third victory in four tries on their current six-game road trip and the second time they've won in the final seconds.
"I couldn't be happier," said Coach Gene Shue. "Now, if we can only beat Seattle . . ."
The SuperSonics, losers of four in a row but still possessors of the best home record (20-4) in the National Basketball Association, will host the Bullets Thursday night at the Kingdome.
"We're winning the close games now because we don't feel the pressure any more," said Mahorn. "We have the confidence in ourselves now and we just go out and execute what Gene tells us to do."
The victory over Portland evened the Bullets' season record at 25-25 and gave them the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Bullets were aided by 11 fourth-quarter points from guard Frank Johnson and some smart team play.
"We executed perfectly at the end of the game," said Shue. "We didn't want to get fouled because we didn't need any points; we just needed to keep the ball away from Portland. So we just put players in all four corners and Frank in the middle and just passed the ball. We never even had to dribble it. This team has really grown up."
Greg Ballard led the Bullets with 22 points, but it was Johnson who the Bullets went to when the game was on the line.
"I just turned Frank loose," said Shue. "He had it going so I went with him."
Johnson scored 12 points in the fourth quarter in the Bullets' 112-110 victory at San Antonio to start this road trip. Washington has now won 12 of its last 17 games on the road. The only team with a better home record than either Portland or San Antonio is Seattle.
Portland has failed to score 100 points only seven times this season, twice in games against the Bullets.
The Bullets will probably be without Kevin Grevey for the rest of the trip, as his injured right hand hasn't responded to treatment. Grevey injured tendons and ligaments in his hand a week ago in Dallas and hasn't been able to catch or grip a ball since, and hasn't dressed for the last two games. The trip will conclude Saturday night in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
Don Collins and Garry Witts have filled in for Grevey, and with Collins' offense and Witts' defense, the team hasn't missed Grevey that much, yet.
"We need him back, though," said Shue. "We just don't know when that'll be."