Those weary road warriors known as the Washington Bullets play their first basketball game at home in nearly three weeks when they meet the Denver Nuggets tonight (7:30, Home Team Sports).
A Capital Centre crowd of 6,000 to 7,000 is expected to see if the Bullets can match the excitement of a 128-126 double overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons in their last home game before the just-completed six-game, two-week trip to the Pacific Northwest and Texas. Washington was 2-4 on the trip, winning two of the final three games, including a 123-115 victory over the Houston Rockets Saturday.
Tonight's game will be the second meeting this season between the Bullets and Nuggets, Denver taking a 108-106 decision Jan. 18 at McNichols Arena. In that game, won on a last-second jump shot by guard Mike Evans, Washington played without front-court players Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland, who were out with injuries. Robinson, who returned from a 15-game absence during the Bullets' last road trip, will play tonight, but Ruland, missing in action for 20 of the last 21 games, is another story.
The 6-foot-10 center still was listed as doubtful after sitting out a morning practice yesterday. According to a team spokesman, there have been no new developments with Ruland's strained right shoulder, just the month-old "day-to-day" watch. Swing man Darren Daye, who missed the Houston game with the flu, did practice and is expected to play against Denver.
The Nuggets continue to surprise. They are 37-21 and in first place in the Midwest Division. The chief reason for the turnaround from last season's 38-44 mark was an offseason trade that brought Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper and Lafayette Lever from Portland in exchange for forward Kiki Vandeweghe. Natt, one of the league's best small forwards, played in the recent All-Star Game and Lever, a point guard, just missed being selected. Cooper has given the Nuggets a defensive presence in the pivot that they have lacked in recent years.
Besides being given three-fifths of their starting lineup, the Nuggets might also come out with a far greater prize from the trade. In addition to the players, the Nuggets will receive Portland's first-round pick in June's draft. The Trail Blazers have been in the midst of a disappointing season and are a step away from not even making the playoffs. Should that happen, Denver could find itself in the postseason lottery for Georgetown's Patrick Ewing.
Washington is more concerned with solidifying the players on hand for the playoff stretch. Friday night, the Bullets (30-28) will play host to the New Jersey Nets, 1 1/2 games behind the third-place Bullets in the Atlantic Division standings. The next night, Washington will play the Knicks in New York. Following that game, at least one Bullet expects the team to be making a strong move above the .500 mark.
"Everyone is just a little tired right now," forward Greg Ballard said. "A week from now, though, look out -- we'll really have things going then."