The Washington Bullets dropped their third consecutive game and their seventh in nine this season, losing, 111-88, to the Milwaukee Bucks tonight.
The Bucks (7-2), leaders of the NBA's Central Division, did not play well. But they were playing against a team that continues to struggle.
"We've been having problems scoring points," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue, "and we had trouble again tonight. We're just having great difficulty. We're looking for some kind of combination of players that can put points on the board, and we just haven't found it yet."
The Bullets were playing their third game in less than 48 hours. They lost Friday to the Bulls in Chicago and returned home to lose to the Celtics Saturday night.
But Shue refused to blame the extensive traveling for the Bullets' poor play against Milwaukee.
"The traveling didn't have anything to do with it," he said. "We've been having difficulty all season long.
"Milwaukee has a very talented team, a team that's deep and wears you down. They don't have many weaknesses."
And they were well-rested compared to the Bullets. Milwaukee, a winner of six straight, had played at home Saturday night.
"I really don't think it's fair to comment on the Bullets' play tonight after the travel schedule that they've had these last couple of days," Buck Coach Don Nelson said. "Playing at home Saturday night was to our advantage."
Despite that advantage, the Bucks didn't take control tonight until the third quarter, when they outscored the Bullets, 34-24, for an 83-69 lead.
Before that, it had been a game of poor shooting and turnovers, with neither team playing well in the first half. Milwaukee started fast, taking a six-point lead, but Wes Unseld and the Bullets fought back for a 27-27 tie after one quarter.
Milwaukee's Mickey Johnson and Quinn Buckner each had eight points in the first quarter while Unseld scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds.
With the ragged first period out of the way, both teams settled down to a cold-shooting, turnover-plagued second quarter.
Milwaukee managed a 49-45 halftime lead as Marques Johnson had 10 first half points and eight rebounds.
If it had not been for Unseld, who ended the first half with 15 points and 11 rebounds, the Bullets would have been even further behind.
But then came Milwaukee's third quarter.
There were few flashy plays or long scoring streaks. The Bucks kept building the lead as the quarter progressed.
At the end of the quarter, the Bucks led, 83-69. The Bullets could get no closer than 10 points after that. The final margin was the Bucks' largest of the night.
"I really don't know what we were doing wrong in the first half," said Nelson. "But in the third quarter, we just seemed to be getting the ball faster. We didn't shoot that well, we just had some better shots. I really don't think we were doing that much different."
Marques Johnson lead all scorers with 21 points. Teammate Mickey Johnson had 18 and Brian Winters 17. Elvin Hayes, who missed the second-half of Saturday night's game when he was elbowed on the head (precautionary X-rays proved negative), led Washington with 17 points. Unseld, who did not score in the second half, had 15 rebounds.