If anything more had gone right for the Washington Bullets, they could have just skipped the playoffs and taken their ball home, secure in the knowledge that they had played the perfect game.
The Bullets (39-40) reached a season high on a night when they had no reason to do so, defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 130-110, last night at Capital Centre. It was their biggest point total this year -- they twice have scored 128 -- moving them into a third-place tie with the New Jersey Nets with three games remaining, and knocking the Hawks out of the playoff picture.
Cliff Robinson scored a game-high 31 points, Gus Williams delivered 16 assists and Charles Jones had a career-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. Six Bullets scored in double figures: Williams had 11 points, Jeff Malone 22, Darren Daye 16, Tom McMillen 10. The Bullets shot 60 percent to Atlanta's 50 percent, took a 70-49 lead at the half, and put their feet up on the desk the rest of the way. It was a laugher.
"That was one of our most terrific games," Coach Gene Shue said. "The first half was absolutely beautiful. They had everything going. It's an easy game when everything goes right.
"It hasn't been like this for us very often. Maybe we're on a roll now. It would be the right time."
The performance of Robinson was particularly good news for the Bullets, who had been in something of a slump, a dangerous situation with the playoffs approaching, and with Jeff Ruland still on the bench with a strained shoulder.
"That's been part of our struggle," Shue said. "We need him (Robinson) to start shooting well. But he got some easy baskets and made some outside shots."
The Bullets are battling New Jersey for third place in the Atlantic Division with three games to go. The winner will earn the right to face Detroit rather than powerful Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Dominique Wilkins got his points as usual for the Hawks, 27 in all, but they were irrelevant. Atlanta never got closer than 14 in the second half.
The Bullets led, 96-76, at the end of the third quarter. But the Hawks outscored the Bullets, 14-8, in the opening three minutes of the fourth period to pull to 104-90, Antoine Carr accounting for seven of the points.
The Bullets quickly opened it back up to 20, however. Daye hit a 19-foot jumper, and got a lay-in on a pass from Williams on a fast break. Malone's 20-foot jumper on another of Williams' assist made it 110-90. The Hawks never got closer than 16.
Robinson had been averaging 17.2 points, but had just 11 against Cleveland Saturday night in a 109-101 victory that broke a three-game losing streak for the Bullets. Last night, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field and scored 19 points in the second half. He also had nine rebounds.
"I felt good," he said. "The last couple of games I haven't contributed much offense, and I wanted to come out strong."
Williams' 16 assists were two short of his season-high, and he was the one who opened up both Robinson and Jones inside.
"Gus is the guy who dictates who scores," Robinson said. "If he's running around making the fast break happen, we're hard to beat."
The Bullets went on a 26-6 streak to build their huge halftime lead, the biggest point total (70) in a half for them this season.
Jones' jam on a pass from Williams with 10:45 left in the period started things off. Wilkins' two free throws made it 37-35. The Bullets then ran off 10 straight points, McMillen hitting two long jumpers in the run. Jones' layup made it 47-35, and the Bullets showed no signs of slowing.
Jones had 13 points in the quarter on five-for-six shooting. He also had eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Williams fed him on three of his four jams.
Jones had signed two 10-day contracts with the Bullets before negotiating a multiyear contract March 8.
"He's got a very strong, quick move to the basket. Gus got him some easy, open shots," Shue said.
Jones had been with seven NBA teams in his brief two-year career out of Albany State in Georgia before coming of age with the Bullets.
"I don't know why he hadn't made it before now," Shue said. "He's been one of those players who's never gotten a chance."