Bullet guard Kevin Grevey reached across the table at breakfast yesterday for a packet of sugar and knocked over his travel case. "Another turnover, and it's not even a game day," he said with a laugh.
Like Grevey, the rest of the Washington players are managing to retain their sense of humor, but just barely. After losing three games in a row on the road, including consecutive trouncings at the hands of Seattle and Golden State, this season suddenly is no longer a laughing matter.
It had begun pleasantly enough with four straight victories and all the hoopla over their NBA title last year. But now the reality of this season is taking over and the Bullets are finding that they no longer can afford to be fat and sassy.
"We are beginning to realize what happens to all league champions the next season," said forward Bob Dandridge. "People are going to be gunning for us every night. It's not like it used to be.
"Things changed once we won the title. We are now an incentive for other teams. If they can beat us, they feel they really have pulled something off."
Golden State is a case in point. The Warriors had lost two in a row and were struggling before Friday night. But they broke quickly from the gate, led by frisky guard John Lucas, and set a blazing pace. The Bullets were left cleaning dirt from their faces as they fell behind, 26-6, after only eight minutes. Golden State eventually led by as many as 34 points and won, 102-83.
"I've never been down so much so quickly in my coaching career," said Washington Coach Dick Motta. "The game was over before it started."
The Bullets have never played worse in their three years under Motta.They are slow, sluggish and battered. Their defense is almost non-existent, their fast break is on a vacation and their shooting eyes need glasses.
"It's a teamwide case of the horribles," said Dandridge, who got his first start of the season Friday.
Grevey's difficulties are a microcosm of the teamwide malady. He had a fine training camp, got off to a decent start, but now his game has deteriorated badly.
"I always have been a slow starter," he said, "but this is ridiculous. I can't get on track."
When the Bullets' offense is functioning correctly, Grevey is rewarded with open 15-foot shots. But when the offense is malfunctioning, as it has been on this trip, Grevey is left to work for his own shots against quicker guards.
So far, his solo act has not been a best-seller. He made only 11 of 38 shots in the three games, mostly because of many off-balance attempts. And his defense in turn has been hampered.
Grevy took extra shooting at a workout yesterday in preparation for tonight's trip-ending game against the Los Angeles Lakers (10 p.m. EDT). but it appeared the club needed more than one workout to alleviate its problems.
"We are getting shots but not the right ones," said center Wes Unseld. "We can't let teams dictate to us. We have to dictate to them. We have to both run and use our set offense, but right now we aren't running at all."
But the opposition is running, almost at will. The Bullets are being crushed on transition plays. Both Seattle and Golden State ran on them consistently, taking full advantage of Washington's numerous turnovers.
"We aren't playing defense and we aren't getting our offense going," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "The result is that we don't have any court balance. Teams are pushing the ball up on us and no one is back there stopping it."
Motta is convinced his club cares about winning, although there is no visible demonstration of enthusiasm or spirit on the floor. Dandridge also thinks conditioning could be a problem.
"They are running up our backs," he said. "We aren't doing the little things we have to do to win. We aren't talking on defense, we aren't running the offense right, we're violating about every fundamental. There is nothing mysterious about it. We just have to correct it."
Washington's plight might not be as bad if Motta could turn to one player to produce some offense.But every Bullet is struggling. As a team they are shooting only 42 percent on the trip and even the reserves, who were so productive in the first four games, have collapsed following the lead of the starters.
"Notice how quick and lively Golden State was?" Unseld asked. "Watch them again when they play us at home. The road can do this to you. You are digging, you start losing and things fall apart.
"We aren't a team who can get away from its basic concepts and win. We have to play smart and do the things that won the championship. Right now, we are having trouble completing even a pass. So there's a lot of room for improvement."