Corporate executives and other fans of the bottom line no doubt would have been pleased with the Washington Bullets' 120-112 playoff-clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks last night at Capital Centre, a victory that was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
In the first half of the game, for example, Washington outrebounded Dallas by 32-20 yet led by a mere two points, 50-48, because of a whopping 15 turnovers.
The Bullets finished the game with 22 miscues that led to 24 points by the Mavericks, but the ledger nevertheless shows Washington with a third consecutive win, improving its record to 35-38 overall.
Besides clinching a playoff spot for the team, the victory, combined with the New Jersey Nets' 110-108 loss to Cleveland, moved the Bullets into third place in the NBA's Atlantic Division.
It also helped ease some of the team's pain from the knowledge that center/forward Jeff Ruland likely will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee today.
"The only reason why we won tonight was that we played hard," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "The turnovers we made were the silliest kind; we weren't being pressured into them. We could have been up by 15 points, but at the same time we could have been down by 15."
Mind you, Loughery was the happier of the two coaches. After seeing his team fall to 39-33 on the season, Dallas' Dick Motta said, "I felt like a stranger in a bad dream."
The Mavericks had 17 turnovers and played in a stupor the entire night. At one point in the fourth quarter, Washington's Darren Daye literally strolled to the basket for a dunk when none of the Dallas players bothered to pick him up.
After the shot, the visiting players sat and watched some more as they tried to figure out who wasn't doing what. A short time later, the Mavericks' Sam Perkins missed a layup when one of his teammates knocked him off his path to the basket.
"We were missing layups, fast breaks, wide-open jump shots, assignments. . . . It was kind of weird," said Dallas forward Mark Aguirre.
Cliff Robinson, continuing his fine play of late, led the Bullets with 21 points, one of seven members of the team in double figures. Forward Dan Roundfield scored 19 and added 12 rebounds, one of four Washington players to reach double figures in that category as well.
Also, as if in keeping with all the unseemly events, the winners got a big lift from two of the more workmanlike players on the team.
Forward Charles Jones hounded Aguirre, the NBA's 10th-leading scorer, into a five-for-15 night from the field. Aguirre finished with 18 points for Dallas, which was led by Rolando Blackman with 27.
Another lift for the Bullets came from Tom McMillen, who not only scored 14 points but actually blocked a shot, his fourth of the season.
The veteran could have been credited with two rejections, tying Manute Bol, but a swat was taken away when he was whistled for a personal.
McMillen was dumbfounded. "It's amazing," he said of official Jess Kersey, who made the call. "He acts like he's never seen a blocked shot before."
As opposed to the previous three games under Loughery, what the crowd of 7,582 at Capital Centre last night did see was the Bullets taking control of the game in the second half.
The team opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run that put it ahead, 61-52, with 8:52 to play. Dallas then scored seven straight points to cut the margin to two, but Robinson scored three consecutive baskets for Washington, spurring the team to an 80-71 lead at the end of the period.
The killer instinct was especially evident in the final 12 minutes. Committing just a single turnover, the Bullets hit 16 of 28 shots and at times seemed to be toying with their opponents.
"It always looks like you're having fun when you're winning," said Bullets guard Gus Williams. "This was probably the worst game that we've played since Kevin's been here, but we probably played the hardest. You can make up for a lot of mistakes when you're putting pressure on the other team."
Even Loughery says that he's not sure whether his early success with the team is the real thing or not.
"You'd like to say that this is a true reading of what the team can do," he said. "But even if it's the emotion of his recent hiring , it's up to the coaches to keep the players at that peak."
That will be especially important given the likely absence of Ruland for the remainder of the season, as well as a schedule that has the Bullets facing Boston, Houston and Atlanta -- three of the league's better clubs -- in the next three games.
"Not having Jeff is the one big minus in all this," said Loughery. "I don't mind playing good teams. We've been playing good teams lately and we don't get a break going into the playoffs. But playing good teams down the stretch will help us."