The way the Washington Bullets are playing now it won't matter to them whom they play in the opening round of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
Following up Saturday night's brilliant victory over Milwaukee at Capital Centre, the streaking Bullets did it again tonight to the Central Division champions in even more impressive fashion--Bullets' style.
With Don Collins leading the way with a career-high 32 points, the Bullets raced to their fifth straight victory, 109-99, to retain third place in the Atlantic Division, a game in front of New Jersey, a 104-102 winner over New York.
The Bullets will have an opportunity to increase that advantage over the Nets Wednesday night when they visit the Meadowlands for a crucial game (WDCA-TV-20, 7:30) before returning home to face Philadelphia Friday night. A victory over the Nets would give Washington a two-game lead with two games to play for the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But the Bullets would not clinch it because the season series would be tied, 3-3, and the next criterion, conference records, is uncertain.
The victory increased the Bullets' road record to 21-19 and their overall mark to 42-37, assuring them of a winning season with only three games remaining.
Collins, starting in place of the injured Kevin Grevey, gave an indication that this would be his night when he grabbed the opening tip and raced in for a layup. He made six of seven shots in the first quarter when the Bullets took the lead for good at 15-14.
"Once I get the jump on somebody I don't think anybody can catch me," Collins said. "We were getting good rebounding from our big men, so I was able to get out and run.
"None of their guards can stay with me step for step and Frank (Johnson) did a good job of getting me the ball," continued the second-year guard/forward who made 15 of 20 shots and two of two free throws. "The most important thing is that we won."
Milwaukee was playing without three injured guards--Quinn Bucker, Brian Winters and Junior Bridgeman--and the players filling in didn't get back on defense to cut off Collins and the Bullets' fast break.
The Bucks started with Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief in the back court and those converted forwards are used to crashing the offensive boards. When they did it, instinctively, Collins took off and there was nobody back to stop him.
"Collins got some breakaways early that we weren't in position to stop," said Bucks Coach Don Nelson. "We talked about it at halftime and I think we cut him down after that until the very end when it was over."
Collins made 10 of 13 shots and 22 points in the first half when the Bullets built a 57-49 advantage. After intermission, the Bullets controlled the tempo and never let the Bucks make a serious run at them.
"This was more our style of game than Saturday night's win (115-114)," Coach Gene Shue said. "That was a run-and-gun game and we were very fortunate to shoot so well (58 percent). This was more of a defensive game and that's the way we want to play.
"We shut them down and had control throughout the second half. We're playing at our best right now. We're playing with confidence, we're working hard on defense and we're executing our plays."
Spencer Haywood led a strong inside game with 21 points and seven rebounds. Greg Ballard overcame a slow start to get 14 points and Rick Mahorn added 12.
Frank Johnson did a good job of controlling the tempo once the Bullets got a solid lead and scored five of his 11 points in the final two minutes.
After making 59 percent of their shots (27 of 46) in leading by eight points at intermission, the Bullets quickly extended their advantage to 64-52 when Haywood scored six straight points.
Another spurt, this one sparked by four straight inside shots by the big men, boosted the Bullets' lead to 73-57 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
With Haywood getting nine points and the Bullets making eight of 14 shots, they were able to take an 82-69 lead into the final period.
Milwaukee made seven of its first 10 shots to draw within eight points (94-86), but Collins scored twice and the Bullets made their free throws down the stretch.
"I thought we were in a lot more control of this game than Saturday night," Johnson said. "Once we got the lead, we brought it to a half-court game and let our defense take over."
The loss really hurt Milwaukee because Philadelphia edged Detroit, 93-89, and now has a one-game lead over the Bucks in the battle for the second-best record in the East and a home-court advantage if the two teams should play in the conference semifinals.