LANDOVER, Md. -- The Detroit Pistons are relying on the power of negative thinking against the torrid playoff shooting of Washington Bullets guard Jeff Malone.
'When a guy's shooting like that, there's nothing you can do except hope he starts to miss,' Detroit center Bill Laimbeer said. 'He's hot, but he'll have to continue as such. We'll see if he can.'
Malone indeed is hot. He is averaging 33 points in the first round Eastern Conference series heading into tonight's Game 4 at the Capital Centre. Detroit leads the series 2-1 after Washington won 114-106 Monday night behind a career playoff high 35 points by Malone.
'I'm trying to play the best I can,' Malone said. 'Somebody had to pick the team up. I told everyone I wanted the ball. I felt great.'
Bullets Coach Wes Unseld skipped Washington's practice Tuesday so he could attend his induction into Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Unseld earned his way into the Hall of Fame with inspired rebounding, bone-jarring picks and timely scoring in 13 years as a player for the Baltimore and Washington Bullets. But Unseld is quickly making his mark as a coach.
The Pistons beat the daylights out of the Loughery-coached Bullets in earning a three-game first round sweep last year. But Detroit, the champion of the Central Division and owners of the second best record in the Eastern Conference, is leading the series thanks alone to a lucky, acrobatic bank shot by Isiah Thomas with 9 seconds left in a 102-101 win in Game 2 Saturday.
'I'm mentally locked in for a five-game series,' said Detroit Coach Chuck Daly. 'I hope the guys are ready because that's what it's going to be.'
Assistant coaches Bill Blair and Jeff Bzdelik ran practice at the Capital Centre Tuesday in Unseld's absence. After Game 3, Unseld said he didn't think it mattered that he would miss practice at such an important point in the season.
'I don't think it's critical,' Unseld said. 'We'll have a meeting before Wednesday's game.'
Malone has battled Detroit's seven-time all-star guard Isiah Thomas to at least a draw in the series, with 99 points to Thomas' 93.
Malone fought through the double-teaming of Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars in the late-going in killing Detroit's hope of a second straight playoff sweep of Washington, which is now seeking a decisive Game 5 Friday night in Detroit.
Malone averaged just 15 points in Detroit's three-game sweep of the Bullets in the first round last year, shooting just 37 percent.
Another key to Washington's victory in Game 3 was rebounding. After being out-rebounded by a combined 28 in the first two games, Washington and Detroit were dead even on the boards Monday. Detroit's John Salley set a team record with 10 offensive rebounds en route to 13 boards in Game 2, but grabbed just tworebounds before fouling out in Game 3.
On the down side for the Bullets is the fate of rookie Tyrone 'Muggsy' Bogues. Bogues, the 5-foot-3 guard who the Bullets made the 12th pick in last year's draft, has not played a minute in any of the three games, leading to speculation that Washington will not protect him in the expansion draft.