Ricky Sobers, as much as anyone, is responsible for the Bullets' drive toward the playoffs. But tonight was one of those nights.

Sobers made two critical errors late in the fourth period and the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Bullets, 97-90, to push them to the brink of elimination from the playoff chase.

Sobers had 13 points and eight assists, but what he remembers most is missing two foul shots in the last 90 seconds, then losing control of the ball as he drove for a layup.

Those two plays didn't cost the Bullets the game, but when a team must win virtually every game, every mistake hurts.

The Bullets were trailing, 93-88, when Sobers was fouled: he missed both shots. He then stole a pass from Marques Johnson, but as he drove for the breakaway layup, he lost control of the ball. He fouled Johnson as he tried to retrieve the ball. The Bullets were done.

"The ball hit a dead spot and just didn't pop up," Sobers said. "On the free throws? I just missed them." He went into the game as the fifth-leading foul shooter in the league (85 percent), but made only three of eight.

"This is probbaly the worst free throw shooting game I've had," he said.

"We're under a lot of pressure, but that wasn't it. (Coach) Gene (Shue) is doing a great job getting us ready for every game, but sometimes, like tonight, it isn't there. We've been playing at such a high intensity level every game, that it's tough to keep it up sometimes."

"This is a do-or-die situation, though," said teammate Frank Johnson, "and we have to be ready. Milwaukee hit the big shots when it had to and we didn't."

Jeff Ruland, the Bullets' leading scorer with 26 points, said he thought the Bullets were going to win after they took the lead, 61-59, with a 19-3 scoring burst, "but they came at us with those big boys and played that chopping defense and Tommy Nunez (one of the officials) wouldn't call the fouls. I thought we'd earned more respect than that."

The Bucks will play at Atlanta Saturday and the only way the Bullets can beat out the Hawks for a playoff spot is if Milwaukee wins that game and the Bullets win their last two. The Bullets can also catch the New York Knicks if the Knicks lose their last two while the Bullets win their last two.