The Washington Bullets ran out of miracles tonight and now they can no longer make the NBA playoffs simply by winning. They need help, and lots of it.
The Bucks, with everyone healthy for the first time this season, beat the Bullets, 97-90, at Milwaukee Arena. The defeat was only the Bullets' third in the last 15 games, but it was very costly. It dropped them behind New York and Atlanta in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Both the Knicks (42-38) and the Hawks (42-39) were idle tonight, but moved closer to playoff spots with Milwaukee's help.
The only way the Bullets (41-39) can make the playoffs now is if they win their remaining two games and Atlanta loses its final regular-season game (Saturday at home against the Bucks) or New York loses both of its remaining two games.
The Knicks play at Detroit Friday and at Chicago Sunday. The Bullets play Detroit at Capital Centre Saturday and end the regular season at Cleveland Sunday.
Both Atlanta and New York won the season series against the Bullets, so the Bullets would be eliminated in case of a tie.
The Bullets struggled through the first half tonight, but made up a 50-37 halftime deficit with a 19-3 scoring run in the third quarter.
They couldn't keep up with the bigger, stronger--and now that they are healthy--deeper Bucks in the final period.
"We just didn't have enough horses," said guard Ricky Sobers. "It's a shame to have things end up like this. We need big help now, but who knows? We might be the next North Carolina State."
"We're still alive," said Coach Gene Shue. "If we had won tonight, we would have been in charge of our own destiny, but now it's out of our hands."
The Bucks clinched the Central Division championship weeks ago and have just been trying to get everyone healthy ever since. Tonight's performance may have been a preview of how powerful they can be with a full team.
Marques Johnson scored 12 points in the first and fourth quarters and finished with 26. Brian Winters, a reserve, made seven of eight shots. Another Milwaukee reserve, Junior Bridgeman, had eight assists and two big jump shots late in the game.
The Bucks were leading, 83-80, with six minutes remaining when Jeff Ruland, who got 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, made two straight baskets on moves inside, to put the Bullets ahead, 84-83.
Bob Lanier, playing against the Bullets for the first time this season, scored on a hook in the lane and, after a Bullet miss, Bridgeman made an 18-footer for a three-point Milwaukee lead.
Ruland got the Bullets back within one, 89-88, when he made two free throws with 2:45 left. But Marques Johnson scored on a driving layup and after Frank Johnson dribbled the ball out of bounds off his own foot, Bridgeman made another 18-footer for a 93-88 Milwaukee advantage with 1:47 left.
Sobers, the fifth-best free throw shooter in the NBA, missed two free throws and then after stealing a pass by Marques Johnson, lost the ball as he drove for an uncontested layup and then fouled Johnson as he tried to get it back.
The Bucks couldn't score on their following possession, though, and Ruland made a layup to cut the lead to 93-90 with 47 seconds left.
Lanier scored on a fadeaway, however, and after Sobers missed a three-point attempt, Marques Johnson made two free throws for the game's final points.
Lanier, who has played in only 38 games because of his arthritic knees, played one of his best all-around games this year. He had 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots.
The Bullets shot only 29 percent in the first quarter, yet trailed only by a point. They were outscored, 30-18, in the second period, however, as Winterrs made 10 points and the Bullets played carelessly and trailed by 13 at intermission.
Things really looked bleak when Greg Ballard committed his fourth foul early in the third quarter, but his replacement, Charles Davis, and Frank Johnson sparked the rally that gotthe Bullets back in the game.
"It took too much out of us to catch up, but it was our own fault we were in such a hole," Johnson said.