The facts are cold and hard. Something out of the ordinary, something totally unexpected has to happen for the Bullets to make the playoffs.
The Bullets know their fate is all but sealed, but they talk only in terms of playing hard and hoping for the best.
"We have to win every game," said Jeff Ruland. "But I've been saying that for a week and a half, and . . . "
The Bullets revived faint playoff hopes with a 96-90 victory over the New York Knicks Saturday at Madison Square Garden, but they are fighting virtually impossible odds.
They are 30-36, with 16 games remaining. The first six teams in each conference make the playoffs, and the Bullets trail fifth-place New York (36-31) by 5 1/2 games and sixth-place Atlanta (36-32) by five games in the Eastern Conference.
The Bullets lost the season series to New York, 4-2. With one game left with the Hawks, they have already lost that series as well, having beaten Atlanta once in five meetings.
Since the record in head-to-head competition is the first tie-breaking criterion if teams finish with identical records, the Bullets, in reality, have to make up six games on Atlanta and 6 1/2 on New York.
Atlanta has won 11 of 14 games. New York has won 22 of 27.
Still, the Bullets haven't given up.
"I'd still rather be here than in Houston," said Ricky Sobers. "If we keep positive, we'll be okay. This victory over the Knicks could be the game that sets us off on a streak. With a little luck, we can win 13 or so in a row and get in the playoffs."
The Bullets are 5-6 in their last 11 games, but were in all the games they lost until the final minutes. Their worst defeat in that stretch was in overtime by 13 to Atlanta, when they missed their last 10 shots and scored only one point in the extra period. They also lost two games by a total of 13 points to Philadelphia.
"The goal we set from the beginning was to make the playoffs," said Coach Gene Shue. "The best thing we can do these last games is to just play well. We've been getting incredible performances from Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, but we've been struggling from outside. If we can get our outside weapons sharp and not have a letup inside, we have a chance. We just have to win games and .500 won't be good enough."