The Bullets arrived here today troubled by a two-game losing streak and a lot of finger pointing at guard Kevin Grevey. Tom Henderson, the one player who might be able to correct both problems, was home in Washington, nursing a sore ankle.
Henderson, who hurt the ankle in the first quarter of Friday's 121-116 loss at Kansas City, was limping badly this morning and decided not to play in Sunday's 1:45 p.m. (EST) game (WDVM-TV-9) against the Denver Nuggets.
His absence leaves Coach Dick Motta with one playmaker, Larry Wright, who admits he does better knowing Henderson is around to spell him when he gets tired.
The Bullets also run their offense more efficiently with Henderson in the lineup, especially in slow-paced games. That offense, which has broken down badly in the first two contests of this trip, has been the subject of much debate in the team's locker room the past three days.
Much of the conversation involves Grevey, who returned to the starting lineup Wednesday night in Indiana after missing four games with a hamstring pull, an injury that has plagued him since early February.
Some of his teammates feel Grevey is, as one put it, "getting greedy" and trying to make up for lost time by forcing shots instead of working within the Bullet offense.
"We won the title last year getting the ball inside," Elvin Hayes said. "If you get it inside, the outside stuff opens up. We were going good the last few weeks with Bobby (Dandridge) and me scoring a lot of points. I don't know why we should stop that now.
"Motta should be able to see things like that. Down the stretch of games, you can't take 25-footers instead of the inside stuff. He told us after the Kansas City game about getting more inside shots. I guess that's all he can say."
Grevey admittedly has forced shots the past two games. He made six of 10 against Indiana but scored only five of his 17 points after halftime. In the Kansas City game, he made his first three shots, then made just one of eight the rest of the way, including four misses in the last six minutes when the outcome was still in doubt.
"I only played four games in February and I'm not back to where I was before I got hurt," Grevey said. "My timing isn't right yet. But I don't think I'm the only reason we've lost these games. I'm hustling and trying to help."
"It's a matter of us now being able to blend our talents with Grevey," said Dandridge, who had a season high of 38 points against the Kings. "He has to recognize what we did to win while he was on the sidelines. He took some shots he shouldn't have, and we just didn't play well as a team."
It would be unfair to blame either of the last two losses completely on Grevey. The Bullets came out flat against Indiana, then tried to pull out the contest with a belated fourth-quarter rally.
Against K.C., neither Wright nor Charles Johnson could stop Phil Ford in the fourth period, when the sensational King guard had 11 points and four assists. Ford finished with 29 points and 15 assists.
In the context of team crises, this is hardly major. But the Bullets have been so accustomed to winning that even a two-game losing streak can cause unhappiness.
Grevey, the club's third-leading scorer (16 points per game), is a valuable property when his outside shot is on target. But when his bombs fail, they are easy to remember and just as easy to criticize. When he makes them, usually nothing is said about his shot selection.
"Probably in two weeks, we'll look back at this and say, 'Why was everyone upset?'" said Mitch Kupchak. "This isn't the end of the season. We are too proud to be done in by two losses."
But another Bullet, who did not want to be named, said some players also took exception with Motta's decision to start Grevey as soon as he returned from his injury.
"That's not fair to Charles Johnson" the players said. "Let Grevey work his way back into shape. C.J. was doing the job. It has to be working on his mind"
Johnson, however, will have new duties against Denver.Instead of spelling Grevey, he will back up Wright at the playmaker position. It's a role that doesn't always suit Johnson, who functions much better as a shooting guard.
"I have to lose Tommy," Motta said. "I just hope he isn't out for an extended period of time. He means so much to us, and when he is out, we have to change the substitution pattern and that causes problems, too."
The progress of Kupchak, who has appeared in five games since coming back from an Achilles' tendon injury, also is troubling Motta.
Kupchak normally is a deadly shooter, but he has made only nine of 32 attempts in those five contests and is playing tentatively at both ends.
"I'm not 100 percent," he said, "but I really can't say how close I am to being at my peak. I couldn't do anything for months and now I have to get in better shape.
"I'm not worried. It will come. I just can't let what I do in one game carry over to the next."