The season is only a month old and already the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost four starters with injuries, been locked out of their home arena and won only one of their last 12 games. And Coach Bill Fitch says the worst is yet to come.
"We haven't bottomed out yet," said Fitch last night. "This is a terrible feeling. But when things go wrong they go wrong."
Last night, what went wrong for the Cavaliers began with the final score: Washington 122, Cleveland 106. But toss in horrendous defense, sloppy passing erratic shooting and you come up with a term that is struggling even more than the Bullets.
"I'd rather play a team when they are down than when they are going good," said Washington Coach Dick Motta. "It's selfish, but it's also the NBA."
The Bullets knew Cleveland was tired after a seven-game West Coast road trip, so they relentlessly pushed the bail up court against the Cavaliers and came away with a horde of transition and fast-break baskets. The pace broke whatever heart the home team bought into the game, which was all but decided once Washington grabbed a 16-point first-half bulge.
Being ahead in the early going was a new feeling for the Bullets after two straight looses in which they fell behind quickly by more than 30 points. The Cavaliers proved just the medicine to solve Washington's lethargy, at least for one night.
"Yeah, every time we think we've turned it around. We don't" said forward Bob Dandridge. "We've been coming out flat and we haven't been trying to get the pace going quicker. We made an effort tonight and it worked."
Dandridge took advantage of transition opportunities to glide around for 25 points, one fewer than Elvin Hayes. And Kevin Grevey gave the proper amount of back-court support with 24 points, including 11 in the last period to thwart Cleveland comeback attempts.
The Bullets may feel like Cleveland tonight when they return home to host the Milwaukee Bucks at 8:05 in Capital Centre. But Fitch doubts it.
"No one is having quite the problems we are," he said. "This didn't even feel like a home game, we've been here for such a short time after the trip. You are tired and things are going bad and all you hear is negative things. You just have to try to put all that out of your head and remember what has worked so well for you in the past."
The owners of the Richfield Coliseum are trying to evict the team over a lease haggle. The door locks to the team offices here were changed over the weekend and the Cavaliers had to get a court order to get inside the building. There is a good possibility they will have to find a new home court before the season is over.
Fitch also is without center Elmore Smith (knee) and Walt Frazier (foot). He just got guard Foots Walker back after a two-week stretch on the injured-reserve list and Campy Russell also has been hobbled by ailments.
The club needed a poor effort from Washington to shake out of its slump. Instead, the Bullets shot 57 percent for the game while Cleveland turned making a layup into a challenge.
"You look at the (close-in) shots we missed and the long shots they made and it makes things worse," said Fitch. "And we compound it with stupid plays. That's what we have to stop. We are home for a while. We have gone through this before. It's a long, hard season and now we have some time to work things out."