The emotions were mixed. The situation the Washington Bullets find themselves in could be a lot worse, but it could be a lot better.

The Bullets do have the home-court advantage in what is now a three-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers after splitting the first two games here at the Spectrum. But Washington did see a good opportunity to go two up go glimmering today.

The next two games of the NBA first-round series will be Tuesday and Thursday at Capital Centre, which accounted for most of the Bullets' optimism in the face of today's 102-97 loss.

The disappointment stemmed from the fact that the Bullets had a terrific chance to put the Sixers in a terribly tenuous position. With six minutes to go, the Bullets led by the same number of points.

"I felt pretty good about things when we were up six," said Jeff Malone, who led Washington with 25 points. "But it's never over. We proved that in Game 1."

In that wild game here Friday night, Washington scored the last 18 points, including Dudley Bradley's three-point shot at the buzzer to win, 95-94.

This time the Bullets played better, but lost.

"I'm happy and disappointed at the same time," said Gus Williams, who had 22 points and 12 assists and took charge in the late third-early fourth quarter when the Bullets took their lead. "They are going down to Washington happy, but we're disappointed that we let this one get away. We were 1-0 coming in this afternoon. We were loose and confident, and we played much better. But we still lost."

Williams saw it as an opportunity that will have to be made up at home.

"Hopefully, we can go home and get some support, get some people in the stands," Williams said. "They're coming down there eager and confident, and they are a good team to begin with."

Williams pointed to the 8,884 empty seats, versus 9,057 occupied, today as a factor.

"This was not a good hometown following," he said of going back to what he hopes will be a fuller Capital Centre. "The only problem is that we have to compete. If we compete at the intensity level we played at tonight, and we get the good crowd support, we will have an advantage."

Dan Roundfield had a similarly upbeat prediction.

"It was a role reversal: We controlled things, but they won," Roundfield said. "But it was a must-win for them. We'd like to have won two, but the momentum is still on our side, and the way things look, it's pretty good. They won, but we'll go back to Cap Centre and see what they can do."

It was a must-win for Philadelphia, according to the key 76er, Charles Barkley (game-high 27 points, game-high 20 rebounds).

"Today didn't mean anything to them," Barkley said. "They're still in the driver's seat. For the Sixers it was life or death, the whole series on one game."

Washington Coach Kevin Loughery didn't quite agree with Barkley's assessment that the Bullets had nothing riding on today's game.

"It certainly was important," Loughery said. "We were treating it as an important game."

And, as with the rest of the team, Loughery had the mixed feelings.

"Certainly after this [weekend's split] you have to feel pretty decent," he said. "The first game was a fluke, but this game we had control of. It's always disappointing to lose, but we're going back to Washington 1-1 and that's not too bad. It's a three-game series and we've got two at home. Not bad."