Everywhere the Bullets turned last night, they came out on the short end. Their losing streak grew to five games, they lost Elvin Hayes in the first half with two technicals debate with National Basketball Association referees.
Washington picked up four technicals, running its total to six in the last two contests, and argued so much with the officials that Atlanta was able to slip by with a 110-108 victory after trailing by as many as 15 points at Capital Centre.
A return home after a winless West Coast trip brought the club to life, but it didn't help the other major problems: poor foul shooting, an inability to solve zone defenses and inconsistent concentration.
"We should be able to beat a zone, we are pros," said Coach Dick Motta. "We better learn pretty quickly. We face another (at Indiana tonight) right away. Crying about it isn't going to help."
The Hawks, as scrappy and relentless as last year, but now with more talent, clinched the triumph on rookie' Jack Givens' jumper with 11 seconds left that gave them a 108-107 lead.
Then the Bullets' Tom Henderson missed a 15-footer, Atlanta center Tree Rollins Knocked the rebound to Eddie Johnson at half court, and he raced in for a lay up. Washington's final point came on Mitch Kupchak's free throw with one second left.
Motta realized his team should never have been in position to be caught at the end. The Bullets had momentum and whatever enthusiasm could be generated from the small crowd of 5,487 when they began arguing with the three-man officiating crew midway through the second period.
First Kupchak picked up a technical and Johnson made the foul shot to cut the Bullet's lead to 41-35. Moments later, with Washington up, 42-37, Armond Hill drove the lane and was fouled by Hayes.
Hayes yelled at Bob Rakel, the lead referee, and immediately was slapped with a technical. Hayes continued to argue and was ejected by Rakei. Hill made the two technical foul shots, plus the two free throws from Hayes' foul. The Bullets turned the ball over and Motta drew a technical, Hill converting the free throw to tie the game at 42 with 5-04 left in the half.
"It's a shame you can't talk to them (the referees) anymore," said Henderson. "We can't be treated like men. You can't say anything more. I guess we are just going to have to stop fighting them and forget about them. Even when you are home, you don't get any benefits.
"All I know is this took away our momentum. We had it going. And without Eivin (five points, seven rebound), well, that didn't help either."
Given second life, the Hawks, who once trailed, 25-10, weren't about to blow the opportunity. Mixing up full-court presses, half-court traps, zones and a relentless man to man, the Hawks forced 21 turnovers and cooled off the Bullets, who shot 65 percent, the first half.
The Bullets last led with 49 seconds to go, when Bob Bandridge got the last of his 26 points by sinking one of two free throws fro a 107-106 margin.
Atlanta center Steve Hawes missed a 20-footer at the other end and Kupchak grabbed the rebound. Dandridge, working on Givens, tried to put the game away with a baseline jumper but couldn't sink the shot. The Hawks called time and set up a play for Givens, the hero of Kentucky's NCAA title victory last year.
Givens got the ball to the left of the basket, jumped over Dandridge and swished the 10-footer. Washington took a time out and decided, according to Motta, "to try to get either Bobby or Henderson the ball the head of the key, so they would have the room to drive and either score or get fouled.
"We knew they'd try to stop Kevin (Grevey) in the corner, which they did. And they cut off the angle so we couldn't get the ball to Dandridge. It was a basketball play. Henderson was open."
Henderson, who scored 20 points on nine of 20 shooting, took Wes Unseld's out-of-bounds pass at the foul line and got off the jumper. The ball hit the rim, bounced and Rollins tipped it to the speedy Johnson, who scored on a breakaway.
The Bullets missed four foul shots in the last 63 seconds, including two straight by Unseld. As a team, they were only 22 of 34 from the line, to 23 of 32 for Atlanta.