Before Washington's 109-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night, Darren Daye stood in the Bullets' locker room thinking of possibilities, none of them pleasant.
"Man, what if Mac (forward/center Tom McMillen) went down tonight?" he asked of no one in particular. Then a sour look crossed his face. "I'd better be quiet. Last night (Monday) I said the same thing about Rick (Mahorn)."
Late in that game, a 128-115 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mahorn -- who was filling in for the injured Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson -- sat down due to a sore right wrist. After pregame warmups before the Golden State game, Mahorn returned to the dressing room and changed back into his street clothes.
And none of the three injured Bullets is likely to play in tonight's Capital Centre game against the Dallas Mavericks, which presents a problem for Bullets Coach Gene Shue.
Dallas has played well of late, moving within 2 1/2 games of first-place Denver in the NBA's Midwest Division. Forward Mark Aguirre is the league's 13th-leading scorer, averaging 23.3 points per game, and his running mate, Jay Vincent, averages 18.7 points and 10 rebounds.
When the starting lineups are introduced, Washington is likely to send out a rather less-than-imposing front court of Daye, McMillen and Greg Ballard, with seldom used Guy Williams as the first forward off the bench. This was the contingent that faced Golden State.
Perhaps the tone of the game with the Warriors was set when Williams scored on an offensive rebound shortly after he entered the contest, because, despite severe size and matchup problems, the Bullets managed to win. After the game, perhaps the most relieved person in Capital Centre was Shue, who raised his arms triumphantly and let loose with a loud "Yeah!"
In winning their second consecutive game, the Bullets continued to stupefy. Although Golden State entered the game with the worst record in the NBA and with an 11-game losing streak, the team still had powerful rebounders Larry Smith and Jerome Whitehead. But those two, along with starting forward Purvis Short, contributed 23 rebounds, only three more than the Bullets' front court starters.
After the game, Shue acknowledged his team "shouldn't have won a game like this." The fact that they did anyway makes one wonder what might happen if the team attains total health. "Everybody's digging a little deeper," said guard Gus Williams, who had 26 points and 14 assists Tuesday. "I even think some of the guys are foaming at the mouth because when everyone gets back we'll be that much tougher."
It's hard to imagine any of the Bullets' walking wounded providing more offense than McMillen did against the Warriors. In scoring his 26 points, the 32-year-old veteran resembled a veritable offensive machine. On one play, McMillen used a swivel-hip fake to move around Whitehead to score, and on another, he powered his way to the basket for a dunk. Twice, he scored with left-handed hook shots from the left base line.
"Everybody's got limitations, and I know I've got a lot of them," said McMillen after his route-going, 48-minute stint. "There are only four shots that I take in a game and I never try to do more than I'm capable of doing."
The same can be said for the Bullets, who have probably reached the saturation point of their short-handed heroics, as Shue readily admits. "I've never been on a team when the top three big men were hurt at the same time," he said. "Maybe Ruland will play Saturday, maybe Rick will be back who knows when; I don't know, it's as crazy as hell. What I do know is that we desperately need our big people back because from this point the level of competition picks up."
That begins tonight with the Mavericks, a team that maximizes its offensive capabilities by taking care of the basketball. For the last two seasons, the club has led the league in fewest turnovers, and it is way out in front in that category this season. Their 595 beats second-place Cleveland by better than 60.