The Detroit Pistons head for a tough trip West knowing they missed a glorious chance to increase their lead in the tight Central Division race.
With Atlanta and Milwaukee facing tough games on the road Wednesday night, all the Pistons had to do at Pontiac, Mich., was to beat the lowly, crippled New Jersey Nets.
Only the hapless Clippers have a worse record than the Nets. On the road, they had won just four of 32 games. Furthermore, the Nets were without center Mike Gminski and had to go with 6-8 rookie Ben Coleman.
Orlando Woolridge made just one of two free throws with five seconds left, but when Joe Dumars missed a baseline jumper at the final buzzer, the Nets had scored a stunning 113-112 victory.
Now, the Pistons, who don't play another home game until April, head for a Saturday game at Dallas, leading Atlanta by only one-half game and the Bucks by 3 1/2.
On the road they will play seven games, including one at the Forum against the Lakers.
Coleman, a top rebounder at Maryland as a collegian, was signed early in the season when the Nets lost center Darryl Dawkins with an injury. As a backup to Gminski, he has been playing about 12 minutes.
With Gminski suffering back spasms, Coleman came off the bench Tuesday night to score 13 points in 26 minutes. He was rewarded with the starting assignment against the Pistons and had a big game.
The 33 points Woolridge scored is not too unexpected. But, to have Coleman score 19 points and grab 12 rebounds in 37 minutes is a definite plus.
With the Pistons holding a 102-96 lead, Coleman scored four points and Leon Wood five in an 11-4 spurt that put the Nets ahead, 107-106.
The Pistons had won seven in a row, but despite a 30-point performance by Adrian Dantley, they couldn't prevent the Nets from improving their record to 20-46.
Philadelphia 109, Atlanta 107--Charles Barkley, almost the only healthy 76er, scored 34 points, including a crucial three-point play with 42 seconds left at Philadelphia and the 76ers ended the Hawks' 11-game winning streak.
Barkley, was 12 for 16 from the field and had 13 rebounds in a superlative performance.
The 76ers, still without Julius Erving, lost their other guard, Maurice Cheeks, with a dislocated finger in the first minute of play. Steve Coulter came off the bench to play strong defense and score 11 points as a sub for Cheeks.
Boston 120, Milwaukee 102--The Celtics may be just another team on the road, but at home they are still the best. With Larry Bird scoring 30 points and getting 11 rebounds, the Celtics won their 20th home game in a row.
For the season they are 30-2 at home, but have lost four in a row on the road. Tuesday night at Milwaukee the Bucks beat the Celtics, 123-115.
"Tonight we had intensity right from the start," Coach K.C. Jones said. "I told them last night they weren't giving the effort I wanted."
Denver 104, Cleveland 100--Alex English scored 30 points and Darrell Walker 29 at Richfield, Ohio, to lead the Nuggets to their second road victory in a row.
The win enabled the Nuggets to tighten their grip on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are 3 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.
Houston 113, Phoenix 91--Akeem Olajuwon put on a show at Phoenix. The Houston center scored 25 points, had 18 rebounds and blocked seven shots as the Rockets handed the Suns their fifth defeat in a row.
The Rockets led only 66-64 early in the third quarter, but went on an 11-1 spurt and the Suns were never close again.