They struggled all night long against the lowly and undermanned Utah Jazz, but the Washington Bullets finally won a game on the road tonight.
They needed 31 points from Jeff Ruland and 24 from Greg Ballard and a last-second misjudgment by Utah's Jerry Eaves to do it, but the Bullets nevertheless came away with a 99-98 victory at the Salt Palace.
With Utah trailing, 99-96, Eaves, trying for the basket that would have sent the game into overtime, had his heels on the three-point line. So when his last-second shot swished in at the buzzer, he was awarded only two points and the Bullets kept intact their record of never having lost here.
Before tonight, the Bullets had lost 11 straight on the road, three on this six-game trip. Their last victory away from Capital Centre had been at the Silverdome Dec. 17.
They will go for two in a row Wednesday at Kansas City.
"This certainly was a must win," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "And it came very, very hard."
If the Bullets had lost, they would have fallen into last place in the Atlantic Division, but the victory enabled them to stay a half-game ahead of the New York Knicks.
The Bullets never trailed after taking a 17-16 lead, but they could never put away the Jazz, who had only nine men dressed for the game. Missing were Adrian Dantley, on the injured list after surgery Jan. 11 to repair a torn ligament in his wrist; and Darrell Griffith, who was in Louisville for his grandfather's funeral. Those two were averaging a combined 54 points a game.
The Bullets led by 10 points early in the third quarter, but Utah closed within two on a basket by Rich Kelley with 23 seconds remaining.
Ricky Sobers scored a layup with 14 seconds to play to increase the Bullets' lead to 99-95.
Eaves made only the first of two free throws after being fouled by Ruland five seconds later. Rick Mahorn was fouled by Jeff Wilkins as soon as he rebounded the miss.
Utah called time with seven seconds left to set up the last shot. They came up with a three-point attempt for John Drew, who finished with 26 points, but his 30-foot attempt clanked off the left side of the glass. Rickey Green was there to rebound it, though, and he passed the ball back to the three-point area to Eaves.
Eaves caught the ball behind the three-point line, but took a step over it before shooting and was awarded only two points. Utah didn't complain.
There had been plenty of complaining earlier--by both sides. Officials Wally Rooney and Jack Nies called 58 personal fouls and five technical fouls. Utah Coach Frank Layden was ejected by Nies at the start of the fourth period.
Offensively for the Bullets, it was another "Let's let Jeff do it" night, as they went to Ruland often. He scored 31 for the second straight game, both of them as a starter.
"I don't think I've ever taken so many shots before," said Ruland, who took 21. "I have been scoring a lot, but I don't care about all of that. I just want to win."
Ruland was going against 7-foot-4, 290-pound Mark Eaton, who made Ruland, at 6-11, 245, look like a dwarf.
"We were trying to take advantage of their big guy by going around him, and when he wasn't in the game, I posted up," said Ruland.
The Bullets also posted up Don Collins in the fourth period, as he took the smaller Jazz guards down along the left base line and scored four of his 14 points in the final 2 minutes 21 seconds.
Ballard kept the Bullets ahead early by scoring 19 of his points in the first half.