After two weeks of training camp and two exhibition games, one thing can be said about the Washington Bullets under Coach Gene Shue -- they will play defense as they never have before.
They may not play it well all the time but Shue has made it clear that defense will win games for the Bullets this season.
The Bullets lost their exhibition opener, 100-98, to the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday in Richmond because as Shue said, "they couldn't defense a simple guard-off-a-screen play."
It was a different story in Hungtington, W. Va., Wednesday night, however, when the Bullets pressed the Chicago Bulls most of the game, held them without a field goal for the first four minutes and coasted to a 104-87 victory.
The Bullets forced the Bulls into 31 percent shooting in the first half and 40 percent for the game.
The Bullets didn't force many turnovers (24), but they made the Bulls use up much of the 24-second clock before getting into their offense. The Bullets' new switching defense confused Chicago much of the night.
That is a major change for the Dick Motta system.
NBA basketball is a game of picks and screens and the only ways to combat them are to fight through or switch men. Motta believed in fighting through screens wherever possible. Shue likes to switch, and when the defense plays it properly, it resembles a zone. The Bullets just now are starting to adjust to the system.
"We really want the players to think defense," Shue said. "Playing team defense can be a whole lot of fun when you know you can shut a team down and force them into bad shots."
Rookie guard Wes Matthews has lived up to his advance billing so far. He is the Bullets' leading preseason scorer after two games, making 11 of 19 shots from the field and scoring 27 points. He also has 11 assists. Mitch Kupchak is the second-leading scorer with 26 points.
Sue has kept pretty much to the substitution pattern he set up before the first game, with the first 11 players each playing about 20 minutes. The others: Lawrence Boston, Ken Dancy, Daryl Strickland and Francois Wise, have been used sparingly, if at all.
Free agent Reggie Holmes hasn't played yet because of a sprained ankle and veteran backup center Dave Corzine missed both games with a cut foot.
Corzine's absence has given rookie Ricky Mahorn much-needed playing time. Both Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry are reluctant to talk much about who will make the team, but team sources say it will be difficult for them to keep both Corzine and Mahorn.
In the opener against Atlanta, a jittery Mahorn made only two of 11 shots, but had eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
He was more relaxed against Chicago and made three of six shots, grabbed six rebounds, and had two steals and four blocked shots. His stock is climbing.
"I thought he really looked good," said Ferry. "I think he is really going to be a player. He moves well and he just looks like he belongs out there."
The surprise of camp so far has been Carlos Terry, a free agent from Winston-Salem. He is big (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), strong and aggresive and has played well at both small forward and at guard in the first two games.
Terry never played guard before he came to the Bullets, but has picked up the position very quickly. Shue is thinking of him as a possible solution to the team's lack of a big guard. Terry has shown that he is one of the best passers on the team and he always seems to be around a loose ball or rebound. He also has a good outside shot and appears quick enough to play defense outside on a smaller guard and big enough to handle virtually anyone inside.
Shue gave the Bullets their first day off yesterday since camp opened. They will resume two-a-day practices this morning at Fort Meade. Their next exhibition game will be Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of a doubleheader. They play the New Jersey Nets Sunday in Binghamton, N.J.