The Bullets ended their preseason tonight on what might best be described as a note of positive uncertainty.
They defeated the New Jersey Nets, 94-92, in what promoters billed as the first NBA game ever played in Miami, and Coach Gene Shue said afterward that he had a "very positive feeling" about this team.
"I liked the way we came back and took charge tonight after being behind early," he said. "I like this team's enthusiasm and the way its been playing solid defense. But . . ."
But injuries to three key players, guards Gus Williams and Jeff Malone, and forward Cliff Robinson, have left the Bullets with an unsettled starting lineup only three days before Friday night's regular season opener in Chicago.
All three were examined today, and the medical reports will be the first things on Shue's mind when he arrives at Capital Centre Tuesday.
Although nobody remembers exhibition records, the Bullets' 2-4 is not exactly the sort of spring-board Shue was seeking. And they might have been 1-5 if old, reliable Tom McMillen hadn't gone a little crazy in the third period against the Nets.
With a near-capacity crowd of 5,000 watching at Miami's new Knight Convention Center, the Bullets trailed by nine points in the first half, when they shot 36 percent, and were lucky to be behind only 44-40 at halftime.
Then Mac brought them back.
After popping in little jumpers from the side just the way he used to at Maryland a decade ago, the 32-year-old forward made a layup for a 60-59 lead and the Bullets were never headed. His 11 points in the third period helped the Bullets into a 69-66 lead.
An 8-2 run at the start of the fourth period gave the Bullets a bit more room, and they held off a late rush by the Nets.
Two jump shots in the final 1:24 by Charles Davis were enough to keep the Bullets in front, if shakily. Tom Sewell's steal from Darwin Cook and a free throw by Dudley Bradley kept New Jersey from causing trouble in the last 26 seconds.
McMillen finished with 22 points in 29 minutes by shooting eight for 12 from the field and six for eight from the foul line.
The Bullets had five others in double figures: Sewell, 12; Darren Daye, 11; Jeff Ruland, 10; Rick Mahorn, 10; and Davis, 10.
New Jersey's Otis Birdsong scored 18 points by shooting nine for 14 from the field. Darryl Dawkins had nine points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the fourth period and Cook had 14 points.
But the Bullets' final 42 percent shooting was not encouraging.
"We need Gus back," McMillen said. "When we get him back -- when we get everybody back -- it's going to be a good season. Our depth is so much better than it used to be."
But not right now.