His team dragging at the end of a 12-day road trip and leading scorer Lloyd Free on the bench with an ankle injury, San Diego Coach Gene Shue knew it might be a long game against the Bullets last night.
What he saw in Capital Centre was even worse than he could have imagined.
Washington, fresh off a four-day rest, raced to a 32-13 first-quarter lead and coasted to a 125-91 laugher that could have been even more lopsided if the Bullets hadn't let up in the last period.
"Just once I'd like to play this team with some rest," said Shue, whose club lost to the Bullets by 17 here in December. "Then we'd see if the difference really is 25 points or whatever between these teams.
"We always seem to end these road trips in Washington. That would be nice if I was a senator. But I'm a coach and you don't like playing a team the caliber of Washington without being fresh."
Free, who is averaging 28 points, sprained an ankle during a 46-point outburst against Atlanta Saturday night. He tested it in pregame warmups last night but it didn't feel right, so he spent the contest sitting next to Shue.
"We've lost five or six on this road trip," Shue said, "and Lloyd has missed 3 1/2 games because of injuries. We probably could be 3-3 with him healthy. Without him, we had nothing left. We were dragging."
But San Diego forward Kermit Washington said even Free wouldn't have made much difference.
"It was like hitting against three brick walls out there," he said. "They were just too good for us. Hey, you know we are in trouble when I have to start shooting."
At least for a half, this was the Bullet team of November. Running at every opportunity and shooting like a team of George Gervins, they were ahead, 20-6, before the game was seven minutes old.
While the Clippers went four minutes without moving their score off six, the home club was popping away at a 60 percent pace and getting points from its entire starting unit.
Bobby Dandridge finished the quarter with 11 points, three more than Kevin Grevey. San Diego's 13 points was the lowest of any Bullet opponent for a quarter this season. During those opening 12 minutes, the Clippers shot 20 percent, getting eight points from Randy Smith.
"We had a physical advantage with their long road trip and Free being out," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "Our bodies were alive. Most of the mistakes we made were at full speed. That's encouraging.
"We wanted to stress running because we figured they'd get tired.There was no reason for us to hold back. We were rested and we don't play again until Wednesday (at home against New Orleans)."
Whatever thoughts San Diego might have entertained about rallying were eliminated in the second quarter by the Bullet reserves.
Larry Wright, who is slipping by defenses with regularity now that his early-season ankle injury is healed, set a torried pace in that period. He had five points and five assists and got the club running so well that Mitch Kupchak added 14 points, almost all off breaks, on seven-of-eight shooting.
The second half was individual statistic time. Kupchak padded his to 22 points, same as Dandridge, while Elvin Hayes produced the most memorable individual play: a onehanded, running, rebound stuff shot right out of the Gus Johnson playbook. But the back-board didn't shatter.
Washington's record improved to 28-13 at the halfway point of the season. The Bullets have the league's best percentage and stand two games ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division.
"If the last half is as good as the first, I'll be satisfied, "said Motta, a master of understatement. "If we stay away from injuries there is no reason we can't be better. We are about right recordwise; we've lost some we should have won and vice versa. Injuries are a key."
Last year at this time, the Bullets were 24-17 but in the midst of a series of staggering injuries that resulted in a final 44-38 record.
Ahead is a difficult schedule covering the last of January and most of February, during which they have to play away from Capital Centre the majority of the time. Among the clubs waiting for them will be San Diego.
"We are happy about our progress," said Shue, whose team is a surprising 20-26. "We've had an awful schedule, but we play 22 of our final 36 at home. We are going to be trouble-some for a lot of teams."