The players jumped up and down and hugged each other as a Capital Centre crowd of nearly 10,000 cheered. Coaches Gene Shue and Bernie Bickerstaff exchanged high fives.
It was Saturday night and the Bullets had just beaten the Milwaukee Bucks, 115-114, to clinch a spot in the playoffs, a feat most National Basketball Association observers predicted would never happen.
The celebration was short, however. The Bullets' sights now are set on finishing with the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference, which would give them the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, a best-of-three series against the fifth best team.
"We want it all," said center Rick Mahorn, who had a game-high 24 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots against the Bucks. "It's all there to take, and we're going after it."
In the race for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Bullets (41-37) lead fifth-place New Jersey and Atlanta (both 40-38) by one game with four to play as the league begins its final week of the regular season.
The Bullets play the Bucks again in Milwaukee Tuesday and play the Nets in New Jersey Wednesday. They end the season with home games Friday against Philadelphia and Sunday against Atlanta.
In addition to playing the Bullets, the Nets have games remaining with Boston, New York and Detroit. The Hawks, who played Chicago last night, play Indiana twice and Cleveland before closing the season at Capital Centre against the Bullets.
The Bullets have the best recent record of the three, having won four in a row and 13 of 19.
The two division winners in the East, Boston and Milwaukee, have first-round byes in the playoffs. Boston will meet the fourth-fifth place playoff winner in the conference semifinals, and Milwaukee will face the third-sixth place playoff winner. Philadelphia has already clinched the third spot.
"I think it's a remarkable feat that we have as good a record as we do and that we made it to the playoffs," Shue said. "Even when we weren't winning early in the season and the offense wasn't clicking, we kept working on defense and finally one day it just happened. The offense was there and the team realized it could execute and score points, and with that came confidence.
"But we aren't content just to make it to the playoffs. We want to finish fourth and get the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"Everyone was happy, yelling and screaming in the locker room after the game Saturday, but we calmed down pretty quick. We talked about finishing fourth, and that's what we're shooting for. The pressure is still on us and it's going to be a struggle, but we aren't easing up just because we're in."
Rookie guard Frank Johnson, who scored 20 points and had 13 assists in the victory over the Bucks, said making the playoffs was "just a stop. We want fourth."
Saturday's victory was doubly important because it gave the Bullets a big confidence boost. They went into the game 0-14 against the three top teams in the East--Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
"Now we know we can beat these teams, and that has to help us once the playoffs start," said Spencer Haywood.
The Bullets played without guard Kevin Grevey against the Bucks, and his status for Tuesday is questionable. He suffered a pulled groin muscle in the Bullets' victory over Chicago Friday night. Don Collins started in his place and contributed 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and a blocked shot.