LANDOVER -- Brent Price delivered the pass on a dime. And when the cutting Jim McIlvaine drove to the basket and threw down a thunderous, one-handed dunk, even his Washington Bullets teammates were left shaking their heads.
If there was some concern that the Bullets' offense would stall with the season-ending knee injury to Gheorghe Muresan, well, at least it didn't for one night. With McIlvaine making the first start of his career, Washington continued its impressive run with last night's 116-106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The victory allowed the Bullets (38-39) to pull within a game of the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat, both of whom were idle last night, in the NBA playoff race. Charlotte and Miami have identical 39-38 records and are tied for the eighth and last spot in the Eastern Conference.
It was the sixth straight victory for the Bullets, their longest winning streak of the season and their longest since the 1987-88 season -- Washington's last playoff appearance. Washington has won 14 of its past 20 games and is within a game of .500, its win total its best since the 1988-89 season, when it finished with 40-42.
And much of the talk afterward was of McIlvaine, who, making his first start, had career highs in minutes (35) and points (12). That McIlvaine scored that many points was not a surprise with the way Washington was moving the ball offensively.
It was how he was doing it, with four of his five field goals coming on powerful dunks that his teammates did their best to describe: "Jim was having a dunk-a-thon," said Juwan Howard.
"' Young Boy' was going to the rack," said Calbert Cheaney, shaking his head.
"He was coming in there with a purpose," said Tim Legler, "and he didn't care who was in the way."
Afterward, McIlvaine, despite being surrounded by minicams and reporters for the first time in his young career, somehow &L; managed to downplay his effort.
"I've always been able to do that," said McIlvaine, who also blocked five shots. "You're just noticing because I'm starting for the first time and playing more."
Again, a team effort won the game for Washington. Howard's 26 points and 10 rebounds led six Bullets players who scored in double figures. Brent Price had 22 points, hitting four of five three-pointers (he has hit 16 of 25 three-pointers over his past five games).
Washington made 10 of 16 three-pointers, coming one game after the team hit 10 of 14 three-pointers in a win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.
"The ball is just moving like it's never moved before," said Legler, who scored 19 points off the bench and made three of four three-pointers. "It's just a lot of fun to play that way."
Minnesota was short-handed, with Isaiah Rider not in attendance because of a sprained ankle, and Tom Gugliotta being limited to just eight minutes after catching an elbow to the ribs in the first half.
X-rays on Gugliotta at halftime were negative, but he did not return.
After a third-quarter run that pulled them within three, the Timberwolves were spent. The Bullets ended the quarter with a 16-8 run, taking an 85-74 lead into the final quarter.
In the fourth, the Bullets led by as many as 20, and coach Jim Lynam was able to rest his starters for much of the quarter.
"They have great chemistry and they stretch you out the way they shoot the three-point shot," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.
"They've got three players that are playing for them who were almost out of the league a year ago [Price, Legler, Ledell Eackles], and they're playing great basketball."
So great that the Bullets were able to have a little fun on the sideline. During a fourth-quarter timeout, injured Rasheed Wallace stood with a sign reading, "Kick me, I'm a rookie," that was placed on the back of his suit jacket by the injured Chris Webber.
It all made for a good laugh, something that hasn't been seen on a Bullets bench this late in the season for a long time.
"We're having fun right now," Price said. "All we can do is go out and win our games, and hopefully catch a break along the way."
Pub Date: 4/13/96