Foul shots were the subject after the New Jersey Nets beat the Washington Bullets, 100-98, last night at Capital Centre to take third place in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey Coach Stan Albeck, recently fined by the league for his outspokenness, chose to keep quiet.
Bullets Coach Gene Shue felt no such hesitation but there was really no need for him to say much -- the fourth-quarter play-by-play told the entire story. In the last 3:51 of the game, the Bullets missed six straight foul shots, costing them the victory. They made only six of 13 in the period.
"That was the big difference in the game," Shue said. "We're just not sharp now. I don't know whether it's physical or psychological. I know that when you are tired mentally your body won't do the things it normally does, but you can't miss your last six free throws."
In the first three quarters of the game, New Jersey held a 29-14 advantage in shots from the line. In the last 12 minutes, when the Nets went to the line only six times, the Bullets couldn't capitalize on the discrepancy.
In particular, four misses stood out. The first two came with 3:33 remaining in the game. Washington had scored eight of 10 points to draw to 92-91, when the Nets' Buck Williams was called for a loose-ball foul.
It appeared that the player hit was Dudley Bradley (No. 22), yet it was Charles Jones (23) who was sent to the line. Jones missed both shots and 19 seconds later Darryl Dawkins scored for a three-point lead.
The last two misfires came with 48 seconds to play. The Bullets down by 96-95, Rick Mahorn was fouled by Williams. Missing the first shot, Mahorn made the next, but referee Jake O'Donnell whistled either a) a lane violation on Jeff Malone or b) a violation on the shooter, Mahorn, for stepping over the foul line as he shot.
No one was certain what the call was, but in either case the game-tying point was negated. Twenty-four seconds later, Dawkins scored again and it was 98-95. Forced to seek three-pointers, the Bullets turned the ball over when Malone lost his footing trying to catch Tom McMillen's pass. It was the last of the team's 15 turnovers.
From that point, New Jersey made two of four free throws, making Gus Williams' three-point basket with a second remaining irrelevent.
With the victory, the Nets (30-29) moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season. Washington (30-30) fell to the break-even point for the first time since Nov. 13.
The Bullets will have a chance to get back on the plus side tonight at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. This season, the Bullets are 11-8 in the second games of back-to-back games. But that enviable record is in jeopardy if Washington, 6-8 since the all-star break, doesn't shake its sluggishness.
Albeck noted that the Nets could improve their playoff position.
"I'm always concerned about things like that," he said. "Right now, instead of playing Milwaukee, we would go against Detroit (whom the Nets have beaten five of six times this season). We're three games behind them for the home-court advantage in that series, so we're definitely going after them."
Shue professed no such concern at this point, instead saying, "I'm more concerned about the team playing well. It's strange -- there was the stretch where we were just scrapping and getting by and we were doing very well.
"Now, Cliff (Robinson) has come back and it's like the rest of the players are waiting for him to just take over or something. I don't know if it's psychological, but we lack continuity. It'll be the same thing when Jeff (Ruland) comes back."
New Jersey's Micheal Ray Richardson was the game's high scorer with 32 points. Robinson led Washington with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gus Williams was four of 16 from the field, including the last-second three-pointer.
In the last two games, Williams has made only 10 of 37 field goal attempts. In keeping with the free throw motif, Malone, one of the league's best from the line -- he was 89 percent entering the game -- shot one of four from the line.