The Washington Bullets took their biggest step yet toward the playoffs with a methodical 92-85 victory over the Atlanta Hawks yesterday at Capital Centre.
It made for a glorious 43 hours for the Bullets, as they won three games, became a .500 team again (31-31) and solidified their hold on the fifth playoff position.
The top six Eastern Conference teams make the playoffs. The Bullets lead the Hawks by two games and have their sights set on the fourth-place New Jersey Nets.
"We're playing well as a unit, we have our confidence and we're out to finish fourth, not fifth," said guard John Lucas. "That will give us the home court advantage in the first round and more money."
The weekend started with a 110-105 victory over Indiana at Capital Centre, as the Bullets came from 20 points back. They beat New York, 109-99, in Madison Square Garden Saturday night and capped it off with yesterday's victory over the Hawks, who had won five in a row. The Pacers and the Knicks were breathing down their necks, too.
"We all knew the importance of this weekend," said center Rick Mahorn. "We looked at each game as if it counted as two. We have to maintain it now. The objective is to make it to the playoffs and we don't really care in which place."
"This was an incredible three games for us," said Coach Gene Shue. "We were struggling and we were playing three games in three nights against teams we have to beat to get into the playoffs. You have to approach a situation like that with some apprehension.
"The Indiana game was the key," he said. "When we made up that 20-point deficit, that gave us the momentum.
"It was a defensive game today and we had control all the way."
In one stretch at the end of the third period and the beginning of the fourth, the Hawks were held without a field goal for 7:33, missing 13 shots in a row. They shot only 38 percent and never got into the flow of the game.
"We slowed them down with our zone traps and didn't give them many fast-break baskets," Shue said.
This was the third straight time the Bullets have beaten the Hawks, holding them to 87, 78 and 85 points.
Atlanta lost center Wayne (Tree) Rollins with an injury to his left knee in the third period, when he became tangled with teammate Rudy Macklin after Greg Ballard charged into him. Rollins was taken to Bowie Health Center for X-rays. It later was reported the knee had been bruised.
Ballard made his first eight shots en route to a team-high 20 points. Four other Bullets scored in double figures. Dan Roundfield led Atlanta with 22 points.
The Bullets led by as many as 11 points early in the last quarter before the Hawks made their final run.
Tom McMillen's jumper after an offensive foul by Jeff Ruland cut the Bullet lead to 77-72 with 4:12 remaining. But Mahorn stole the ball from Eddie Johnson, passed to Ruland and the 6-foot-11, 240-pound rookie dribbled three-quarters of the way to the basket and scored on a layup as he was fouled by John Drew.
Ruland sank the free throw to make it 80-72. After Roundfield missed a shot, Kevin Grevey scored on a driving one-hander, which gave the Bullets an 82-72 lead with 2:12 to play.
Eddie Johnson's three-point field goal, a turnover by brother Frank and a 10-footer by Rory Sparrow got the Hawks back to 82-77 with 1:45 left. But Ballard made one of two free throws after Johnson fouled him and, after Drew missed, Ruland made two free throws after Roundfield fouled.
A technical foul on Atlanta Coach Kevin Loughery sent Grevey to the line and he made the free throw for an 86-77 advantage with 72 seconds to play. That finished the Hawks.