In a matchup of two of the National Basketball Association's most injury-prone teams, the Washington Bullets limited the Milwaukee Bucks to two points in the final two minutes last night and emerged with a 94-87 victory before 9,014 at Capital Centre.
The Bucks entered the game with the fifth-best record in the NBA and had won three in a row and five of their last six. But the Bullets' defense held them to their lowest point total of the season and 39-percent shooting.
"We aren't going to go out and just outscore many teams," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "What we're doing is holding the high-scoring teams down to where we can beat them. Defense is how we have to win."
"This was a tough game," said Greg Ballard, "but it's typical of the type of games we play. With our style, we're going to be in a lot of games like this and we have to be able to win them."
The victory was the Bullets' second in a row and 13th in their last 18 games. Washington's record improved to 16-13. Milwaukee dropped to 20-11.
Neither side was able to assume control of the game, despite the Bullets having a nine-point lead late in the third period. They still were ahead by nine after baskets by Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland with 7:02 remaining, but the Bucks rallied.
A three-point play by Charlie Criss, a 12-footer by Marques Johnson and an offensive rebound basket by Sidney Moncrief cut the Bullets' lead to 85-83 with 2:40 remaining.
Ruland sank one of two free throws to make the lead three points, but Junior Bridgeman closed it to 86-85 with a 17-foot jump shot with two minutes to play.
Ballard, who had 23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals, made two free throws after he was fouled by Dave Cowens, giving the Bullets an 88-85 advantage with 1:39 left.
Moncrief, who was top scorer for Milwaukee with 24 points, then missed a layup with Mahorn rebounding and the Bullets center fed Bryan Warrick for a fast-break basket and a 90-85 lead.
Alton Lister scored on a dunk for the Bucks with 68 seconds left, but Ruland then made a layup, and after Cowens missed, Warrick ended the scoring with two free throws.
This was the second game the Bullets have been without Don Collins, whom they learned Tuesday would be out five to six weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot. Shue used Carlos Terry as the backup to starting shooting guard Kevin Grevey last night and he said he was pleased with Terry's play.
Terry had two points, two assists and two steals in 10 minutes and played good defense on Moncrief.
Grevey scored 19 points, but had trouble guarding Moncrief.
"I really like Carlos as the fourth guard," said Shue, "especially defensively. If I didn't have confidence in him I wouldn't use him."
Shue said he was still undecided about replacing Collins.
Frank Johnson, who has missed the last five games with a chip fracture of the right elbow, will be reexamined today, Shue said, and if he can return soon, the Bullets will play with 11 players and wait for him.
Warrick made only one field goal, but had five assists and made five of six free throws. He had four of his points in the final 1:18.
"Sure I feel a little more pressure to score with Frank and Don out," said Warrick. "Everyone is trying to pick up the slack, but you still have to do the other stuff and not disrupt the offense in the process."
Mahorn outplayed Cowens most of the night, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds to Cowens' seven and six, respectively.
"Rick gave us a big lift down the stretch because he controlled the boards," said Ballard.
The Bucks have had more injury problems than the Bullets. Bob Lanier, Steve Mix and Brian Winters are all on the injured list. Harvey Catchings could play only four minutes because of a sprained wrist.
"They do have a lot of injuries," said Shue, "and it probably affected them tonight," said Shue, "but their three big scorers--Moncrief, Marques and Bridgeman--were all here. We just played good."