The return of Kevin Grevey, who will play Sunday against the SuperSonics after being sidelined for a week with a hamstring pull, should have bolstered the spirits of Washington Bullet Coach Dick Motta.
But even the presence of a much-needed healthy player couldn't ease Motta's anger over a run-in with the referees Friday night in Oakland that resulted in his ejection and that of assistant Bernie Bickerstaff.
A longtime advocate of the three-referee system, Motta now has decided the experiment, begun in the NBA this season, "is a failure."
"It's too easy for them to hide," he said. "No one wants to take the responsibility out there. These games shouldn't be decided by their calls or no-calls. We are trying to win $150,000 (for the best record in the league) and they are stealing it from us.
"If someone was robbing your home, you'd go after them, wouldn't you?"
Motta, who has been pushing for three referees the last six years, now thinks a return to two officials is the only alternative.
"Two refs were awful last year, but if they try to improve the quality of officials they hire, it might work," he said. "Hey, I've seen it as a last-place team and a first-place team. Now we are on top, so it's not like I'm blaming refereeing for a bad season. But the calls just don't equal the caliber of players we have out there."
Motta's anger with the officiating on this western trip began with the first game Tuesday in San Diego. He blasted the officials after a loss Thursday in Phoenix, although the Suns' superior play, and not the officiating, beat the Bullets. His frustration finally exploded in the game against Golden State with 19 seconds left and the Bullets down by four.
Two plays led to the outburst. Bob Dandridge, scoring what was to be his team's final basket with 1:26 to go, was knocked to the floor in front of referee Wally Rooney but no call was made.
Then Wes Unseld was fouled, intentionally Motta felt, by Warrior rookie Wayne Cooper on a layup try with 28 seconds left. Again Rooney, standing under the basket, didn't make a call. Golden State got possession and Sonny Parker was fouled by Tom Henderson.
Both Motta and Bickerstaff charged up the sideline to the scorers table, with Bickerstaff getting there first. Although head referee Hugh Evans ejected him, Bickerstaff spent most of the time screaming at Rooney, who stood at the Golden State foul line. Bickerstaff finally had to be escorted away from Rooney by Warrior Coach Al Attles, then assistant Joe Roberts before he went to the locker room.
Now it was Motta's turn. He walked over to Rooney and screamed in his face, quickly picking up an ejection. At one point, it appeared the two would start trading punches but Motta held back by Attles, and Rooney, restrained by Evans, couldn't get close enough to each other.
Before play could be resumed, Bullet trainer John Lally picked up a technical for arguing about the time remaining on the clock. Parker missed both of his foul shots and the Warriors hit only two of five technical foul free throws, but that was enough to wrap up the 109-103 triumph.
Golden State should not have been close enough at the end to win. The Bullets had a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter and the Warriors were without guard Phil Smith, who had partially torn an Achilles' tendon in the second period after scoring 20 points.
But the home team kept hustling, the Bullets ran out of energy and wound up losing their third game in a week.
Although the club played well enough to beat both Phoenix and Golden State, it's apparent the absence of Grevey and Mitch Kupchek (inflammed Achilles' tendon) finally has taken its toll.
Without two of their top four scorers, the Bullets don't have the offensive depth they need to win consistently on the road. Fortunately for them, Philadelphia also has lost two straight, so their lead in the Atlantic Division race has remained at four games.
But Seattle, Washington's closest pursuer in the battle for the league's best regular-season record, has closed to two games going into Sunday's 3:45 p.m. (EST) contest.
Grevey's return, however, could be just the boost the team needs at this final stop of the trip.
He said he has been working out the last few days, testing his hamstring "and it feels great. If it didn't, I wouldn't be out here."
Grevey, who flew here Friday, last played Sunday in Philadelphia, scoring two points before the hamstring acted up again. Without him, opposing guards have been shooting up Washington, with Lloyd Free getting 45 points, Paul Westphal 32 and Smith 20 in less than a half.
Phil Chenier is still not in top condition, so Motta has had to rely on small guards to play alongside Henderson. The defensive mimatches that have resulted could be alleviated by Grevey, especially since he is rested and anxious to play against the guard-rich Sonics.
Seattle has beaten Washington twice this season, including last month at Capital Centre when Grevey played little because of the hamstring and his replacement, Charles Johnson, made only one of 14 shots. In that game, Sonic guard Gus Williams had nine steals.
Motta said he had no complaints about the way his team has played the last 10 days. "We haven't used injuries as an alibi and we just as well could have won every game despite not having Mitch and Kevin," he said.
"One thing is for sure," he said, "we are giving people a show. The fans are coming out to see the world champs and they are getting their money's worth. It's just tough to win without two of your best players to help out."
But even if Grevey and Kupchak were playing it wouldn't alleviate the frustration caused by the officiating, at least in Bickerstaff's mind.
"If we make mistakes, we get together and talk about it," he said. "But I don't think the refs talk. It never gets better. We did everything we had to do to win the Golden State game and it comes down to some bad calls. It shouldn't be that way."