Any hopes the Bullets may have had of catching the New York Knicks in the NBA playoff chase all but vanished last night at Capital Centre when the Knicks methodically dismantled them, 106-100.
Barring an unexpected collapse by the Knicks, the Bullets' only realistic shot at the playoffs is to catch the Atlanta Hawks.
After last night's games, that appears to be unlikely, too.
The Knicks (36-30) have the fifth best record in the Eastern Conference and now lead the seventh-place Bullets (29-36) by 6 1/2 games.
Sixth-place Atlanta defeated Cleveland last night and leads the Bullets by five games. Washington has only 17 games remaining.
"I felt all along that it would be difficult for us to catch the Knicks," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Atlanta is the team we have to think about. What are our chances of catching them? I always think you have a chance no matter what the odds."
The Knicks had seven players in double figures as they beat the Bullets for the fourth time in five meetings. The season series will conclude tonight at Madison Square Garden (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30).
By winning the season series from the Bullets, the Knicks, in essence, lead by 7 1/2 because teams' records against each other is the first tie-breaking criterion. The Hawks have also clinched the season series with the Bullets.
The Bullets had a chance to win last night's game at the end, but as has happened repeatedly this season, they couldn't come up with a big play and their opponents could.
Louis Orr's fast-break basket gave New York a 100-91 lead with 3:35 left, but the Bullets scored seven straight points, three of them by Ricky Sobers, to cut the lead to 100-98 with 1:53 left.
Ernie Grunfeld made a 17-foot jump shot to increase the Knicks' lead to four with 59 seconds to play. Sobers was called for an offensive foul on the Bullets' next possession for hooking Grunfeld as he drove around him.
Rory Sparrow missed a jumper for the Knicks with Ruland rebounding and then hustling upcourt to score on a fast break and cut the lead to 102-100 with 20 seconds left.
The Knicks played keepaway and Ruland was forced to foul Grunfeld. The husky guard made both free throws with 11 seconds left.
Sobers then dribbled the ball off his foot and Sly Williams scored on a fast-break dunk for the game's final points.
This was the Knicks' eighth straight victory, their longest in three seasons, and was also their 22nd victory in the last 26 games. They have also won six in a row and 11 of 13 on the road.
The Knicks lost their first seven games, but now are a confident group. Bernard King scored 22 points and Bill Cartwright had 21, 15 in the first quarter.
Jeff Ruland led the Bullets with 30, but the difference was on the benches. The Knicks' reserves outscored their Washington counterparts, 48-10. Charles Davis, with 10 points, was the only non-starter to score for the Bullets.
The lead changed four times in the first quarter before the Knicks took it for good.
A base-line jumper by Sobers, a 10-footer by Greg Ballard and a free throw by Sobers gave the Bullets an 11-8 lead, but New York then outscored them, 14-4. Cartwright, shooting short hooks and turnaround jumpers over Ruland and Rick Mahorn, had 10 of those points.
The Knicks never again trailed.
The Bullets committed 26 turnovers that the Knicks, the best defensive team in the NBA, converted into 26 points.
"The Knicks are very similar to the way we were last year," said an admiring Shue. "Even when they were losing all of those games early, they played good defense, and once you establish a defensive foundation, the offense will come along. They are playing better than anyone else in the league right now, and that probably includes Philadelphia."