LANDOVER -- The struggling Washington Bullets have not heard such loud cheering all season as they did late in the fourth quarter last night on their way to a 113-97 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
But almost everyone in the crowd of 17,522 was cheering Duke's last-second victory over Kentucky in the NCAA tournament as the final score was posted on the Capital Centre scoreboard.
But the Bullets (23-49), who despite the victory were officially eliminated from the playoff race, deserved better.
Reduced to a 10-man roster when center Pervis Ellison, their leading scorer and rebounder, was sidelined with a groin pull, the remaining Bullets turned in an inspired performance to end a seven-game losing streak.
Ledell Eackles, continuing his recent scoring surge, led the offense with 34 points. But Eackles had considerable help, some from unexpected sources.
Harvey Grant chipped in with 24 points, Charles Jones, filling in for Ellison, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and blocked a season-high seven shots, reserve center Greg Foster contributed 11 points and eight rebounds, and backup point guard Andre Turner had 11 points and eight assists.
The loss all but knocked the late-surging Hornets (28-41) out of playoff contention. They now trail the Miami Heat by five games with 13 left.
The loss disappointed rookie head coach Allan Bristow.
"We just weren't mentally into the game," said Bristow, who had half-jokingly predicted Jones would have "a career night" after learning of Ellison's injury.
"The mental part of this game is so important, especially in becoming a good team," he said. "If the Chicago Bulls aren't mentally in it, we can beat them, and certainly if we're not ready to play, anyone can beat us.
"Tonight, the Bullets did whatever they wanted," Bristow said. "Not only Eackles, all of them. Michael Adams was sitting on their bench in the second quarter, and they still did just what they wanted."
Eackles was the Hornets' chief tormentor, scoring 21 in the first half to help build a 62-46 lead that mushroomed to 97-69 late in the third quarter, before Charlotte mounted a meaningless rally.
"Offensively, Ledell was super," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "What's glaring is his point production, but now he's also playing good defense, setting picks and helping other guys on the court."
Eackles, who has averaged more than 20 points since becoming the starting small forward by dint of attrition last month, was not fully appreciated by his Hornets defenders.
"With no one guarding me, I can score 30 too," said guard Kendall Gill. "He's a great shooter, but no one was defending him tonight."
Unseld, who had played 22 in the Maryland lottery ("We were stuck on that number so long," he said), also got a big lift from his depleted bench, which provided 37 points.
Foster, a constant target of Unseld's barbs for his lack of aggressiveness, drew a rare compliment from his coach.
"Greg went to the post, attacked the basket and rebounded well," said Unseld.
Said Foster: "I think I made a concentrated effort to play down low tonight and be more aggressive on the boards. I'm trying to show I'm not afraid to go down there and bang. There's no doubt in my mind that I can do it."
It was Jones' big night, however, that most rankled Bristow. But "C.J.", as the eight-year journeyman Jones is called, always has been undervalued.
"I surprise myself every now and then," he said of his career-high 16 rebounds, nine of them offensive. "Hey, if I stick around long enough, I might even score a career-high  points one night."