The Washington Bullets played the kind of game tonight that leaves Coach Gene Shue at a loss on where to turn and wondering if this team, as is, can even be competitive against most others in the National Basketball Association.
Not only did they lose, 100-83, to the Atlanta Hawks, they may have lost center Wes Unseld for an undetermined length of time with a sprained ankle.
Unseld hurt his left ankle with four minutes gone in the game when he came down on another player's foot. He was taken out and ice was applied to the injury. He went back in later that period but was ineffective and hobbled from one end of the floor to the other.
At halftime the ankle stiffened. Unseld tried to play in the third quarter, but after 90 seconds couldn't continue and went to the dressing room.
The Bullets' chances of winning went with him.
"I can't tell how bad it is," Unseld said. "When I twisted it I knew it would tighten up. I just tried to go as long as I could before that happened."
Trainer John Lally said it probably would be 36 hours before the seriousness of the sprain would be known.
The Bullets were outscored, 21-1, the first 7 1/2 minutes of the final period and scored only 11 points that quarter while committing 10 turnovers.
They had planned to play without guard Kevin Grevey, suspended one game for an incident last week involving official Hugh Evans. But Grevey appealed the ruling and was allowed to play until his appeal is heard by Commissioner Larry O'Brien Jan. 5.
Grevey didn't help. He missed 11 of 15 shots and, with Unseld zero for five and Greg Ballad three of 13, the Bullets shot 37 percent for the game.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to do something," a frustrated Shue said.
His options are limited, though. The Bullets have no reserve to turn to and no bait to offer in a trade.
The most frustrating thing to Shue is that the situation probably is going to get much worse before it gets any better.
The Bullets have lost six of their last seven and, if Unseld is out for any length of time, are going to find it difficult to even stay in a game with many teams.
The Bullets play Christmas night at Capital Centre against the New Jersey Nets.
As has been the case so often, they played well for three quarters tonight and were ahead, 58-49, four minutes into the third period.
Elvin Hayes had 20 points by then, but he got only two more the rest of the evening and the Bullets began committing every type of turnover imaginable. Hayes shot an air ball, then was called for traveling; Wes Matthews dribbled the ball off his shoulder and out of bounds; the 24-second clock ran out on them and they walked with the ball, dropped it, fumbled it and kicked it away.
The Hawks had five players in double figures, led by Eddie Johnson with 25. His guard mate, 5-foot-8 Charlie Criss, had 18 and rookie Don Collins made seven of eight shots for 15 points.
"In the first half we had control of the game," Shue said. "But then, through a series of things we did ourselves, like long passes and other errors, we came off the floor with only a two-point halftime lead when it should have been 10.
"Basketball is a game of mistakes and a game of streaks. If you have some cushion to work with, you can overcome them."
Grevey was suspended without pay and fined $1,000 Monday for the incident a week ago.