This is getting spooky.
With the eerie theme from Rod Serling's old "Twilight Zone" television series wafting in the background, the Washington Bullets won their third consecutive game, a 93-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks last night before 5,112 at Capital Centre.
It was hard to determine what was most unbelievable about the game. Surely the final score had to be right up there, but perhaps no higher than the Bullets' 54-42 edge in rebounds, with Greg Ballard getting a career high of 20, or the fact that the team survived the final four minutes of the game with Ballard playing center.
Or was it Darren Daye? Both players were in the front court, along with Dudley Bradley, in those hectic final minutes. The situation had come about when Tom McMillen (15 points and a season-high 15 rebounds) fouled out with 4:05 remaining.
With the team's Big Three of Jeff Ruland, Cliff Robinson and Rick Mahorn on the sideline in street clothes because of injury, that left it up to Washington's shock troops.
After the Mavericks' Jay Vincent made one of two free throws after McMillen's foul, the visitors led, 85-84, and extended their lead 31 seconds later on a short jumper by Mark Aguirre (28 points).
The Bullets came back on the strength of two consecutive jump shots by Bradley and tied the score with 2:20 to play on Ballard's free throw. After Gus Williams (a game-high 31 points) scored on a jumper and Daye added a stuff shot, Washington led, 93-89, with 1:19 remaining.
But things got even tenser. With 40 seconds to play, Williams fouled Derek Harper, who made the second of two free throws. Twelve seconds later, Williams lost the ball after being nearly decapitated at midcourt. Harper passed to Rolando Blackman and the subsequent basket cut the margin to a single point.
Wait, it gets better. Scrambling to beat the 24-second clock, the only shot available to the Bullets was a 30-footer by Bradley that missed badly. The Mavericks' Jay Vincent got the rebound with three seconds to play and passed ahead to Harper. But a desperation heave didn't come close.
"I think it was Rudyard Kipling who said once, 'The strength of the pack is in the wolf but the strength of the wolf is in the pack,' " McMillen said after the game. "Who could expect us to win, undermanned like we've been?"
"We're playing smart, playing hard, perhaps the guys are giving more than they should be able to," Washington Coach Gene Shue said. "I've said all the great things I can say about a great group of guys."
"I hate to play a team that is crippled," said Dallas Coach Dick Motta. "We don't have the killer instinct. We have to be able to pounce on situations like this."
The Mavericks weren't able to because the Bullets effectively beat them at their own game, controlling the ball. The league leaders in fewest turnovers, the Mavericks gave up the just eight times, only one fewer than the Bullets (25-19).
Three of those Bullets' turnovers came in the first half, which was why the team led, 48-42, despite shooting just 42 percent from the field. "We had 48 possessions in the half and got 50 shots; that's how the game is supposed to be played," said Shue.
"It's scary and shaky; you get worried but you're having fun," said Ballard. "This was a fun game but it presented another enormous challenge. I haven't played center since a tiny bit in college."
Daye, who had a career-high 10 assists in the game, said he hadn't played center since high school, which sounds even more dramatic. "There are some guys I can guard down low, though," he said. "It was a must situation and it's not as if their center (Kurt Nimphius) is (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar or Robert Parish."
After the game -- besides wondering if McMillen, dubbed "Moses" by his teammates in honor of Moses Malone, the Philadelphia 76ers' tower of strength, was still alive -- the big question was how could the Bullets top this act.
"I'm hoping we have better moments (this season), but the players are doing a hell of a job," said Shue.
"We're supposed to be converting into a running team," said McMillen. "But we're succeeding by slowing things down. I think Gene's got a big decision to make when the others come back."