Like Washington, the Detroit Pistons know a little bit about adversity. Entering tonight's game against the Bullets without forward Dan Roundfield, the Pistons received a jolt when his running mate, Kelly Tripucka, went down with a severely sprained left ankle.
In addition, All-Star point guard Isiah Thomas was a bit under the weather. But, also like the Bullets, Detroit knows something about winning. With their bench providing 43 points, the Pistons won their eighth straight game, beating Washington, 115-105.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Bullets (26-20), who were led by Jeff Malone's career-high 32 points. But Malone alone couldn't make up for the Pistons' depth or Washington's fatigue.
"They were really just too good, quite honestly," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "We didn't play that badly but we might have been a little bit tired, we probably should be the way we've been going."
Tonight's game was the fifth in seven nights for the Bullets, all without leading rebounders Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. But despite their absence -- along with Rick Mahorn for part of the week -- the team won four of the games.
"We've worked hard the last few games, the last two weeks really," said Greg Ballard (19 points, 10 rebounds). "We had to get tired sometimes, it just happened to be tonight."
Given their recent play, Detroit was probably the wrong place and the Pistons the wrong team for the Bullets to tire against.
In beating Seattle, 132-113, on Saturday night, Detroit center Bill Laimbeer scored a career-high 35 points. In the first quarter against Washington, he scored 19 points en route to a team-high 27 points.
"That was really an important part of the game," said Shue. "You know the others will get their points, but when he started the way he did for them, it got them out of the blocks that much quicker."
But the quick getaway by Laimbeer was almost matched by the Bullets center Tom McMillen. McMillen had 11 points in the first quarter, but ended the game with only 15.
That was also the story for the entire Bullets team. Despite Detroit's 65 percent first-quarter shooting and a 55 percent mark at the half, the Bullets only trailed by 64-56 at intermission.
Tripucka went down just as the buzzer ending the half went off, coming down on the leg of another player and writhing on the ground in pain. When the fourth-year player from Notre Dame had to be carried off of the floor by his teammates, it seemed the Bullets might benefit.
But in the second half, those same teammates picked up for Tripucka. Forward Terry Tyler scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and was joined by guard Vinnie Johnson (13 points) and center/forward Earl Cureton (12 points) in extending that halftime lead to 17 points in the third period.
That the Bullets, noticeably fatigued, were able to cut that margin to 90-78 at the quarter's end, was due to Malone, who hit six of eight shots in the period.
Washington would come no closer than 11 in the final quarter, the Pistons' depth and superior rebounding (53-31, with 17 on the offensive end) taking its toll.
"We can get by with things like this (the missing players) for a while but we really need our big guys back," said Shue. "Hopefully, we'll get them this week."
Tonight's matchup was a preview of what will might turn out to be a first-round playoff pairing. With the victory, the Pistons took a 2 1/2-game lead over Washington for the home-court advantage in such a series.
However, Shue said he isn't looking that far ahead yet. "All I've been thinking about is each game -- we've had so many recently," he said. "At this point, that's all I'm doing."
So are his players. "This magic had to wear off sometime," said Ballard. "Now I'm looking forward to getting a day off. I think we all are. Come Wednesday, I think you'll see a different Bullets team."