If their performance Saturday night in Buffalo is any indication, the Bullets are going to have to struggle to maintain their lead in the NBA Central Division over the next 30 days.
In that span, they play 12 of 16 games on the road, where they hardly have distinguished themselves since mid-December. But until their embarrassing 130-93 collapse against the Braves, they at least had been competitive away from Capital Centre.
Now they must visit such unfriendly places as Los Angeles, Phoenix (twice), Chicago, San Antonio and Denver, with the Spurs breathing down their necks. San Antonio is only 1 1/2 games behind and has a favorable schedule that includes eight of the next 15 games at home.
Since beating Denver Dec. 16 for their biggest road win of the year, the Bullets have lost six of eight travel games and needed a last-second shot by Tom Henderson to prevent a seventh defeat to New Jersey). Their road record has fallen to 8-ui after being at 6-6 earlier.
It's not unusual for contending teams to lose road contests in the NBA, but the Bullets were hoping for a better showing at this stage of the season, especially since they feel they have the type of experience to cope with the pressures of enemy courts.
But their inconsistency was never illustrated better than over the weekend, when they beat Portland Friday at Capital Centre and then were annihilated by Buffalo.
No one on the team felt the Bullets had that big an emotional letdown following the Trail Blazer game. And they played a competitive first half against the Braves, trailing by only four points going into the locker room.
Yet everything fell apart for Washington in the second half. The Braves shot 63 per cent, played decent defense and let the Bullets' own mistakes and lethargy take care of the rest.
"When you are in this league for a while, you realize that you can't explain how these things happen," said Wes Unseld. "They just do. All the veterans have seen it happen."
Which probably is part of the problem. This veteran-oriented team has the ability to play well in games it feels it should win -- such as against Portland -- but against weaker clubs, there is a noticeable letdown.
Come playoff time, the players say they are sure they will have no trouble getting up for every game, home or away. But coach Dick Motta warns that his club cannot affort to become too lackadaisial in the regular season or it could risk sacrificing the Central Division title and a home-court advantage in the early rounds of the playoffs.
"Losing like we did sure takes some of the joy out of beating Portland," said Mitch Kupchak. "The only good thing about the game was that it was our last trip to Buffalo this season."
However, Bob Dandridge was hoping the Bullets' road problems would eventually be beneficial. "We have to learn to be more consistent." he said. "I think we realize that if we are, we could finish with a pretty fair record.