Bullet Coach Dick Motta advised fans yesterday who are starting to stay away from Capital Centre in large numbers "not to give up on this team too soon."
Motta, whose club has lost six of its last eight Centre appearances, including the last four, said, "Everyone would be wrong to write this season off before it is over.
"Sure, we have problems. But this is the type of team that can suddenly do very, very well. It's shown that pattern all season and there is no reason to expect them to change now."
As for his own job security, Motta, who has one year remaining on a three-year contract, said he has "received no pressure from the front office. I've put pressure on myself.
"You expect people closest to the situation to understand what is going on. Outsiders who don't really know don't count anyway.
"If they (the front office) didn't like what happened at the New York game (attendance: 7,163), then they have some postseason decisions to make. If I had any mystical power, the first thing I would do would be to make everyone healthy. Then we'd find out how good we are."
At one point earlier in the year, the Bullets thought they were headed toward a record attendance total. But only one of the last eight crowds has been larger than 9,492 and team officials admit the exception - 17,252 for Boston - was the result of John Havlicek's farewell appearance here. And three of those last eight have been among the smallest nine gatherings of the season.
The more the Bullets stumble on the court and the smaller the crowds become, the more Motta realizes he is on the hot spot. "The coach is the most visible guy. He doesn't win games for you, but he can lose them," he said.
"This has been a very difficult year for all of us, me included. From day one in training camp, when Phil (Chenier) reported with the back problem, things haven't gone like you would have hoped."
"But when we came out of camp. I was convinced we had one of the best teams in the league. Now it's unfair to compare us to that team.We aren't the same. Injuries just haven't let us get into our rhythm."
That injury problem continued yesterday. Kevin Grevey was kneed in the thigh and could miss tonight's 8:05 game against Los Angeles at the Centre. No. 2 scorer Bob Dandridge, who has a sore groin muscle, a pulled hamstring and a strained neck, will not play in order to give his ailments time to heal. Mitch Kupchak will start in his place.
"When Kevin got kneed," said Motta, "you could see the looks on everyone's faces. 'Oh, no, here we go again.' I know I felt that way.
"If we have a problem, it might be that we expect something bad to happen. It's affected our confidence.
"The thing now is not to overreact, as a coach, a fan or a player. You go through five crises a year and they all need time to work out. That's what we need now: time."
But the Bullets don't have much time left if they are to salvage third place in the Eastern Conference. They are one game ahead of New York and two ahead of Cleveland and have contests left at Boston Thursday and at Philadelphia Saturday before finishing home against the 76ers Sunday.
Although the club has appeared sluggish and uninspired lately, Motta says he disagrees with "anyone who thinks we aren't hustling. We are responding in practice and I don't detect any internal problems. If we have any. I'm not aware of them.
"Maybe it looks like we're feeling sorry for ourselves. But I talk to the players and they all tell me we'd be okay if we could get everyone healthy at the same time.
"The way we've been playing is confusing. I'm sure people can't figure out why we can beat New Jersey and New York on their home courts but lose to them on ours a few days later. But if you try to explain, it sounds like excuses."
At the end of last season, his first with the club, Motta was criticized by then-Bullet guard Dave Bing, who said Motta had not received enough of the blame for the club's problems. This year, however, players have spoken out publicly more often when they were upset.
Motta acknowledged he had read from the players criticism but said he was pleased they are trying to get things solved.
"The players keep saying that little things are losing games for us. I agree We are being hurt on transition plays and we aren't taking advantage of our rebounding and running our fast break properly.
"But those are things you work out in practice and we never are healthy enough to run a full-scale practice. Our progress has been hindered. That's obvious."
Motta has tried to reach the players by a variety of means. He has chewed them out, he has lectured, he has counseled and he has left them alone. After 10 years in the league, however, he experts his men to get themselves ready for every game without outside help. With younger players, especially, that techinque doesn't always work.
"I can give them guidelines and plays," he said about his dealings with the players "but I can't throw a pass or shoot for them. They are on their own out there and they have to prepare themselves.
"I still want to win as badly as I ever have. I'm not panicking and I hope no one in this organization does.
"I just remember something Bobby (Dandridge) said the other day.He told me that before everyone got hurt, everyone was getting confident and we were blowing teams out. The other people were starting to fear us. That's what we are capable of doing, if everything was okay."