One day after the fact, it remained hard to select the most impressive aspect of the Washington Bullets' 101-98 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night at Capital Centre.
Was it the 19,105 people in the stands, the initial sellout of the season and the team's first since Feb. 10?
Did the Bullets win because of Cliff Robinson's clutch shooting, Jeff Ruland's all-around play or Rick Mahorn's defensive effort on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
Or maybe it was the way Coach Gene Shue adroitly used timeouts so the visitors never could fast-break away from his team throughout the early going.
All of the above and many other factors came into play in the Bullets' fourth consecutive success and 12th in the last 14 games. Although the losses in that span came to NBA superpowers Boston and Philadelphia, Washington also has beaten those two teams. Saturday night's effort, the third consecutive defeat of the Lakers in Landover, made the Bullets 14-7 and added a third victim considered by most in the league to be elite.
Judging from the past three weeks, Washington appears capable of crashing into the same rarefied air.
"I know that we're for real, it's just a matter of sustaining it," said Ruland, who scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds and nine assists against the Lakers.
"If we could play .900 ball the rest of the way I guess we'd be in great shape, but that's not going to be possible."
Many thought the Bullets would fall apart without Gus Williams in the lineup. Yet three of the four consecutive victories have come with Williams, the team's leading scorer, watching in street clothes, recuperating from a strained adductor tendon in his right leg.
Williams, eyeing the noisy crowd before Saturday's game, said he had hoped to return to action that night but it was ruled out after he tried to practice on Friday.
"I know that there are a lot of muscles in the body but I never knew how much one little one could affect all the others," said Williams, whose status for Tuesday night's game against the Utah Jazz remains questionable.
That will be their last game before they embark on a western swing that takes them to Phoenix Thursday and Los Angeles to play the Clippers Saturday and the Lakers again Sunday.
The other member in good standing of the Bullets' walking wounded, Mahorn, played 19 minutes on his tender left ankle, 10 in the decisive fourth quarter. During that time, Abdul-Jabbar, honored before the game for his contributions to the game of basketball, scored just two points, on a pair of free throws with less than two minutes to play.
"When I first began to play against Kareem I'd try to beat him to a spot and make him beat me with his left hand. That's how I've been successful against him," Mahorn said. "That's all you can do, force him to his left and pray that you get a lot of help."
That help was very evident in the fourth quarter. Although each team attempted 16 shots from the field, the Lakers could convert only six to Washington's nine. From the 10:49 mark until 3:55 was left in the game, a 6:54 span, the Lakers were held without a field goal.
"Our defensive rotation was great," Shue said. "We were getting deflections and picking up loose balls. It was great to watch."