LANDOVER -- When the Washington Bullets walked into their locker room last night, there was a little less room to maneuver with all the minicams around. There was such a buzz before the game against the Miami Heat that coach Jim Lynam didn't deem it necessary to deliver a pep talk.
"At this stage of the season, a team like us can ill afford any losses," said Lynam, well aware of the playoff implications involved. "[The team] doesn't need me to tell them that it's important. Our survival is what we're talking about here."
And that instinct of survival provided a shocking outcome as the Bullets led by as many as 28 points in a one-sided, 111-99 win over the Heat before 18,756 at USAir Arena.
In winning their fourth in a row, the Bullets (36-39) moved within a game of the Heat (37-38). The Bullets expected to be within 1 1/2 games of the Charlotte Hornets -- who hold the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- but Charlotte dealt the Chicago Bulls their first home loss of the season to stay 2 1/2 games ahead of Washington.
Juwan Howard scored 25 points and the starting backcourt of Brent Price (21) and Ledell Eackles (five three-pointers) combined for 41 points as five Washington players scored in double figures. Price and Eackles outscored Miami's starting backcourt of Rex Chapman and Tim Hardaway, 41-19.
The poor shooting of Hardaway (1-for-11) and Chapman (1-for-7) was a credit to the Bullets' defense. Outside of the 28 points from center Alonzo Mourning, the other four Miami starters totaled just four field goals, missing on 21 of 24 shots.
"By far and away it was our worst game with this unit," coach Pat Riley said after the Heat's fourth straight loss. "It was a very inadequate effort in a big game. There was no effort at all in the starting lineup."
That was why Riley had five reserves on the court the entire fourth quarter, when the Heat twice pulled within 13. But the 28-point deficit was too much to overcome.
Mourning's 28 points were a far cry from his career-high 50-point effort in a 112-93 win over the Bullets on March 29.
"Right now we're playing defense, we're helping and we're getting into the passing lanes," Howard said. "We're confident. Hungry. That sums it up."
A broken thumb suffered by Rasheed Wallace on March 29 appeared to doom the Bullets' chances of a playoff run, but the team has managed to win six of its past eight games with a smaller lineup that includes Eackles at shooting guard. Playing against his former teammates last night, Eackles hit seven of 10 shots.
"When you play against a team that you played for, you want to beat them," Eackles said. "As a starter, I know I have a lot more time. I don't have to go out there and rush things."
The Bullets actually started slowly last night, falling behind by as many as seven points as Mourning did pretty much as he pleased. Mourning made seven of 11 shots in the first quarter, mainly while being played one-on-one by Gheorghe Muresan. But the first quarter was an indication of exactly how the game would play out as the rest of his team hit just two of 13 shots in the quarter.
By the end of the first quarter the Bullets were running the double teams at Mourning and would take a 26-23 lead into the second. After a layup with 2: 56 left in the first quarter, Mourning scored just one more field goal the rest of the half.
And his frustration began to build, especially after his dunk attempt in the second quarter was rejected by Jim McIlvaine.
Within 26 seconds, Mourning would pick up his second and third fouls, both on the offensive end. Miami would trail by as many as 21 points in the quarter, which was where the game was pretty much won by Washington.
It was the Bullets' fourth straight win, the past three coming against possible playoff teams: Atlanta, San Antonio and Miami. And it just sets up another big game, tomorrow in Boston.
"The last two games [Atlanta and San Antonio] were big, which made this a monster game," Lynam said. "I don't know how much more monster you can get."
Pub Date: 4/09/96