LANDOVER -- After Miami completed a five-game season sweep of the Washington Bullets, 108-93, at the Capital Centre last night, Heat center Rony Seikaly put his team's NBA playoff hopes in perspective.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out that we're sitting very pretty right now," said Seikaly, assessing Miami's chances of catching the Atlanta Hawks in the battle for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
"We can control our own fate now. Three of our last four are at home. The Hawks still have to play Chicago twice, plus New York and Cleveland. They've got the tougher schedule. If we don't make it, we have no excuse."
And if the Heat makes the postseason party for the first time in its four-year existence, it will owe a special thank-you to the lottery-bound Bullets (24-54), who have offered only token resistance this season.
Miami won its five games with Washington by an average margin 12.2 points, and this latest romp was typical.
The Heat jumped to a 31-19 first-quarter lead and was never headed. The Bullets made several aborted rallies, closing to within 78-73 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
But it seemed that whenever Miami needed to score, it simply threw the ball inside to Seikaly, who overpowered his rival Bullets centers to score a game-high 24 points, including 14-for-15 from the foul line.
If the Bullets sagged on Seikaly, he found small forward Glen Rice (22 points) open outside, or Bimbo Coles or Grant Long simply drove the lane for uncontested layups and dunks.
Meanwhile, the Bullets offense struggled against the Heat's deceptive traps and switching defense. Only center Pervis Ellison (18 points), making his first appearance after sitting out six games with a groin pull, and rookie forward Larry Stewart (20 points) shot the ball with any consistency.
Washington managed only one field goal in the first four minutes of the last quarter, while Miami rolled to a 94-79 lead. By the end of the quarter, the Bullets had as many turnovers (six) as field goals.
"Our defense was as good as it has been all year," said former Bullets guard and coach Kevin Loughery, in his first season as coach of the Heat. "Our guys realized the importance of this game and stepped it up. Every game is big for us now, and that makes it more fun."
NOTES: Bullets coach Wes Unseld held a private workout with G Rex Chapman at the Capital Centre yesterday morning. Chapman, who has not played for the Bullets since being acquired from the Charlotte Hornets for forward Tom Hammonds, spent almost an hour running agility drills to test his bruised left heel. Chapman has tentatively scheduled his Bullets debut for Tuesday against the Knicks in New York.
"Rex told me he didn't have any soreness in the heel after the workout," said Unseld. "We'll work him out [for the next three RTC days], and then it will be up to our team doctors to decide `D whether Rex can play in New York. It's not my decision, it's theirs."