It was anticipated that the Detroit Pistons, faced with the majority of their games down the stretch on the road, would be the first to fold in the hot Central Division race.
Instead, the Pistons, with a different star in the clutch each night, are holding tenaciously to first place.
Joe Dumars converted a three-point play with 46 seconds left Saturday night at Pontiac, Mich., for the decisive points in a 98-95 comeback victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pistons' sixth consecutive victory gave them a one-game lead over Atlanta and kept them 3 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.
At the start of last week, the Pistons were in a virtual tie with the Hawks and led the Bucks, winners of the last six Central Division titles, by two games. However, they had 23 games remaining, all but seven on the road.
Before eking out this win at home, the Pistons won three in four nights on the road. Friday night at Chicago, Bill Laimbeer sank a free throw with four seconds left to beat the Bulls, 100-98. Wednesday night, Isiah Thomas had an impressive performance in a tough battle at Indiana.
In this one, rookie David Wingate put the 76ers ahead, 95-93, on two free throws with 1:47 left. The 76ers didn't score again. Cliff Robinson missed two free throws, and Charles Barkley, who had a triple double (30 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists) missed two three-point shots in the last minute.
Dumars put the Pistons ahead for the first time since the first quarter when he was fouled sinking a short jumper and sank the free throw. With 17 seconds left Laimbeer sank two free throws to complete the scoring.
"We have had big comeback wins the last two nights," Detroit Coach Chuck Daly said. "We have to keep winning because we have a really tough trip ahead."
The Pistons play Indiana Monday and New Jersey Wednesday at home, then open a seven-game trip next Saturday at Dallas. They play the Lakers on the tough journey and wind up at Portland March 31.
If that's not tough enough, upon their return, they still will have games left at Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. If the Pistons win the division, they will have earned it.
Milwaukee 111, Cleveland 104--The Bucks are becoming impatient waiting for the Pistons to hit a slump.
With an eye on the scoreboard, they are having trouble winning. In this game at Milwaukee, they built a 92-78 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, then had to battle to hold on to win.
The Bucks were also helped by a second-quarter fight between the Cavaliers' Brad Daugherty and the Bucks' backup center Randy Breuer.
Daugherty, who made all four of his shots before being thrown out because of the fight, is averaging 15 points a game, Breuer eight.
Washington 106, Chicago 105--Michael Jordan drew a sellout crowd of 19,411 to the Capital Centre at Landover, Md., but the fans caught his poorest performance of the season.
Although Jordan scored only 13 points and missed his last 10 shots from the field, the Bullets, playing without ailing Moses Malone, barely won in overtime.
Jordan, who was 5 for 20, missed all six shots he took in the fourth quarter and had seven turnovers. Yet, with five seconds left in overtime, he had a chance to win it. But, on his drive down the lane, the ball spun out of the basket.
The Bullets, led by Jeff Malone, who scored 31 points, six of them in overtime, built a 78-63 lead in the third quarter, but Charles Oakley and Brad Sellers rallied the Bulls for a 96-96 tie in regulation.
Dallas 118, Houston 109--Sam Perkins scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds at Dallas as the Mavericks jumped in front early and never relinquished the lead.
Mark Aguirre scored 30 points for the Mavericks, who blew all but one point of a 15-point lead in the third quarter, then quickly pulled away on accuracy from the foulline.
San Antonio 121, Phoenix 108--Walter Berry had 21 points at San Antonio to lead an offense that enabled the Spurs to end a three-game losing streak.
It was the fourth loss in a row for the Suns. All have been on the road. They lost despite Larry Nance's 32 points.
Utah 123, Sacramento 116--Karl Malone scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half at Salt Lake City and also contributed 14 rebounds as the Jazz won another for ailing Coach Frank Layden.
Layden has viral pneumonia and has missed the last three games.
The Jazz trailed, 70-63, halfway through the third quarter, but Malone led an 11-0 spurt that put them ahead to stay.