Washington forwards Greg Ballard and Tom McMillen both entered last night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers after bouts with back spasms, but on opposite ends of the health spectrum. McMillen said he had been so stiff in the morning that he couldn't get out of bed. Ballard, responding to medical treatment, said he felt fine, "as I think you can see."
The Cavaliers certainly could. Good on 11 of 15 shots from the field and eight of eight free throws, Ballard scored a season-high 31 points in leading the Bullets to a 128-115 victory. McMillen, listed as only "probable" for the game, joined his running mate and scored 19 points.
Gus Williams -- presumably feeling hale -- had a hearty all-around show for the 3,017 fans (of 4,892 who had tickets) who braved the weather to get to Capital Centre. Williams scored 19 points, meted out a season-high 18 assists and made four steals in a game that made Washington feel rather healthy after a weeklong road trip. In the process of giving the Bullets their highest point total for the season, four other players scored in double figures, Darren Daye getting 20 as a reserve.
"It's hard to predict when it's going to be a high-scoring game like tonight was," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "But you know you're in for a bad night when you shoot 60 percent and you're still losing."
That was what happened to the Cavaliers in the first half, the Bullets taking a 64-55 lead into the intermission despite the visitors' sharpshooting. World B. Free had provided 18 of those points en route to a 31-point total, but when Free was whistled for two technical fouls and ejected by referee Jess Thompson with 6:34 to play, Cleveland Coach George Karl knew it was the end of his team's world for the night.
"It was one of our worst performances in a while," said Karl. "I can't understand, though, how any official can throw out a player that's the key to our having any chance to win at all."
Even with Free, the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The Bullets, with the exception of a short fourth-quarter lapse, appeared to play little more than well enough to keep the Cavaliers at bay.
Entering the final quarter down, 94-83, Cleveland outscored Washington, 9-4, to cut the margin to 98-92 with 9:52 to play.
Forty-six seconds later, Shue called a timeout and chastised his team for unintelligent play. From that point until Free's ejection, the Bullets went on an 8-0 run that effectively sealed the win.
After that the only tense moment came when Rick Mahorn (10 points, 10 rebounds) went to the floor in a heap after tangling with Cleveland's Mark West. The center had a large bag of ice applied to his right wrist after the game and was scheduled to have X-rays taken before tonight's game against the Golden State Warriors.
In the last week, X-rays have become as big a part of the Bullets' game plan as Xs and Os. But the team has, according to Shue, "survived," thanks in no small part to the play of Ballard, who has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds in the last five games.
"It's most definitely been an enormous challenge, especially on the boards," Ballard said after the game. "You're trying to battle inside against guys that are five to six inches taller than you.
"On the other end, though, what we're trying to do is take them outside where they don't want to go. And as long as we're succeeding with that we'll keep calling those plays."
Center Jeff Ruland, one of the Bullets' walking wounded, had an arthrogram done on his injured right shoulder in the afternoon. The test showed no tear but some tendinitis. Team doctors listed his availability as day-to-day. Ruland said he hopes to be out on the practice court Wednesday and to play against the Dallas Mavericks here Thursday.