The Bullets benched Kevin Porter in favor of Jim Cleamons last night, but it had little effect on their deteriorating game as they were outhustled and outgunned by the red-hot Kansas City Kings, 107-97, at Capital Centre.
The bullets committed the cardinal sin in basketball: They shot badly and played poor defense, too. The performance was so lackluster that many of the 7,629 customers took to booing as the game wore on.
The surging Kings are a very good team, having won eight in a row and 16 of their last 19, and the Bullets haven't beaten them since the season before last.
The defeat dropped Washington to 13-16 and evened its home record at 8-8.
Bullets shot a lowly 38 percent against the fast-breaking Kings' 55 percent.
"We're getting the shots, but they just aren't falling," said Bob Dandridge. "They aren't the best shots, though. They were getting layups and we were shooting jump shots."
Otis Birdsong scored 29 points to lead the Kings, and he sparked an 8-0 Kansas City run at the end of the second quarter that broke the Bullets' back.
Kansas City had moved to a seven-point lead and was on the verge of blowing the Bullets out, but Larry Wright ignited the home team and helped close the margin to 48-47. That was with 1:50 left in the half after he fed Dandridge for a short jump shot.
The Bullets didn't score again in the half.
Birdsong answered Dandridge's basket with a short jumper of his own and then, after Tom Burleson blocked a Mitch Kupchak shot, Birdsong drilled in a 20-footer.
San Lacey blocked a Wes Unseld shot on the Bullets' next possession and Scott Wedman converted that into another Kansas City basket.
Then, the Bullets tried to hold the ball for the last shot, but with four seconds left, Lacey stepped in front of Unseld and intercepted a Cleamons pass. His driving layup fell through the hoop just as the horn sounded and the Kings had a 56-47 halftime lead.
"That spurt really did us in," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "We got it to within one and then didn't get another shot."
The defeat was particularly discouraging to Motta because after the Bullets won two of three games on a just completed road trip, he thought they were ready to start moving.
"I had every reason to be optimistic going into this game," Motta said.
The way his team played defense and shot most of the night, doused his optimism.
The bullets still had a shot at overtaking the Kings in the final quarter, but Kansas City reserves Ernie Grunfeld and Gus Gerard combined for 11 points in the first five minutes of the period to help increase a seven-point lead to 95-83.
The Bullets were never in contention thereafter.
Grunfeld scored on two layups and a free throw and Gerald made two reverse layups and a short baseline jumper.
"Grunfeld and Gerald aren't going to beat you outside and we give them layups," said a disgusted Motta.
Motta said he had been contemplating a move to the 6-4 Cleamons for some time.
"He earned his shot," Motta said. Though Cleamons did not distinguish himself in his first start, shooting two for seven and registering three assists, Motta said he will continue starting the former Knick.
"We just didn't play that well tonight," Cleamons said. "Our shots just weren't falling and on nights like that your defense has to carry you.
"We just never got a spurt of any sort and that's what we needed, but as poorly as we played, there's still hope. We do have our work cut out for us, though."
Elvin Hayes led Washington with 22 points and Kevin Grevey added 21. The only other Bullet in double figures was Dandridge with 12, but he missed 11 of 16 shots.