"When I saw we'd shot 25 percent for the first half," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said, "I thought the stat man surely had gone haywire. I thought we'd shot at least 26, maybe even 27 percent."

It was a game bad enough to laugh at, all right, the losers unable to hit Puget Sound from a raft and yet only behind by 10 points at the end. Motta kept saying he wanted to emphasize the positive - and that was it.

Anyone even mildly involved in this Bullet-SuperSonic series knows Washington's problems. Possible answers rang from every corner of the Bullet dressing room after the loss today, some banging into each other, like Greg Ballard and Wes Unseld had in the forth quarter.

"If the guards hit," said Elvin Hayes, "it's a different game."

"It's easy to say the guards are the problem," said Unseld. "But when they miss in our offense it's magnified (because 80 percent of the offense is designed for the front-court players). We've got to get them involved, like they're working to get us involved. They're getting into much heat."

And from the coaches:

"I wasn't ashamed of our floor game," Motta said. "We basically got (the shots) we wanted."

"The whole problem is we can't get it down the court fast enough and into the gut of the defense," said Bernie Bickerstaff, the assistant coach. "By the time we get into our offense, there's maybe 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Instead of working the second and third options off a play, we've got to go with the first. And the idea in the playoffs is to stop the first option."

Which usually was the first free guard tossing a prayer toward the basket after the Sonics forced Hayes or Bobby Dandridge to surrender the ball.

The one thread that kept postgame analysis from being as out of control as a Tom Henderson layup or Charles Johnson after making his first shot of the game was that the Bullets must run Tuesday night if they hope to gain a split here.

"Let's make our mistakes at full speed," Bickerstaff said.

"I'm not involved, because we're not running," said guard Kevin Grevey. "That's how I got the majority of my points, off fast breaks and transition, the same way I got them (in college) at Kentucky. Running and gunning."

The bullet offense was tentative much of the game, as though the players were looking for Sonic subtleties that never came. Hayes and Unseld totaled 19 offensive rebounds, but converted just six of them into baskets, although Unseld made five free throws off fouls.

Curiously, Hayes took just one of his favorite shots from his favorite spot on the floor, that turnaround jumper toward the baseline from the left of the basket.

"We got it down (to him)," Motta said.

"He was turning into (double-team) pressure," Bickerstaff said, "instead of away from it, like he usually does."

"They're not giving it to me," Hayes said. "They bring the guard over, and when I turn around the forward's already there."

That rarely stopped Hayes in the past, and his shots were off enough early so that Motta benched him shortly after a player he turned on at will in Game 1, Paul Silas, entered the game.

Silas worked exceptionally hard. After Hayes scored on him inside almost the instant he entered the game, Silas played the only defense possible against a larger and more mobile player: Keep him from catching the ball.

Once Silas stayed between Hayes and the ball so well that Charles Johnson was forced to shoot from long range or the time on 24-second clock would have expired.

But Bullet miseries more often than not would be the guards missing shots pros ought to hit half the time, then losing Sonics at the other end of the court for layups.

"It's like a golfer missing an 18-inch putt," Motta said of the guards missing lightly contested shots. "There's a tendency to feel sorry for yourself, to not do the little things that'll make up for it.

"The guards basically are in a slump. I've got to try to help them relax, get free and easy. But there's 20 other teams watching this series. We didn't get here on a fluke. We have to keep things positive. Other than that, there's not a helluva lot I can tell you.

"We must have missed 10 tip-ins the first half. I told 'em: 'Stay in there.' And I even changed knees. I'd kneel on one knee awhile, then kneel on the other. Me shooting bad? Hey, I haven't taken a jumper all week. You think I'm gonna expose myself to you guys?"

Motta's substitution possibilities are limited. Ironically, the solution to his guard troubles might well be Mitch Kupchak. With Dandridge at guard, Greg Ballard off the bench and Kupchak injured, though, there is no front-court flexibility."

"We can't afford to get down 3-1," Hayes said. "I think this'll work itself out. Or I hope so. Think and hope. That's what this is all about . . . the difference today was not what Seattle was doing, but what we were not doing."

"We're a proud team," Motta said. "This is something we're not used to. But we're in the same position we were in last year."

In fact, the Bullets were in worse position last year. They were down, 2-1, but were coming here for two games. They won immediately, with three guards and seven players in all in double figures.Basketball is not that complicated.