The Bullets couldn't find anybody to do KP duty last night.
In their first home game since Jan. 28, the Bullets took a 14-point lead over Portland midway through the first half on the strength of Kevin Porter's 21 points. But Porter picked up his fourth personal foul with 10:35 to go in the third quarter, played only 11 minutes in the second half and watched as the Trail Blazers blazed by the Bullets, 124-104, at Capital Centre.
You live by the guard, you die by the guard.
Porter, the Bullets' lending scorer with 27 points, said, "I would have liked to stay in. I've been in the league 10 years. I feel I can play with three or four fouls and be effective. Gene (Shue) doesn't feel I can play with three or four fouls. He's the head coach."
"It was a factor, no doubt about it," said Shue. "I don't think we lost the game because KP came out of the game with fouls. When he got his fourth, the score was still pretty even."
Kelvin Ransey, Portland's leading scorer with 24 points, said the Blazers wanted to get Porter in quick foul trouble. "It really hurt them," he said. "They have no one else who can do what he does. Their front line didn't really play real well without him. You can really tell the difference when he's not in there. I was a big factor."
Indeed, by the end of the game one fan's cheer of, "Welcome home, boys," which had greeted the Bullets when they came out for warmups, had taken on a sardonic note. Home proved anything but sweet for the Bullets, who had just finished a 3-4 road trip that included an overtime loss to Portland on their first stop.
The Bullets, who have come to rely on scoring from their guards, got 17 points from Porter and Kevin Grevey as they went up by 14 points at the end of the first quarter. The starting back court scored 33 points in the first half, but the Blazers whittled that lead to seven by halftime, 58-51.
"The first half we did a hell of a lot of good things," Shue said, "but we didn't take control. I thought we should have had complete control. We should have been in the 60s and they should have been in the 40s."
But the Blazers scored on their first five possessions of the second half to come within one point, 62-61. Four of the five baskets were inside as the Bullets showed the defensive capabilities of Liechtenstein.
The Blazers tied the score at 75, when the Bullets committed one of their 13 turnovers and guard Jim Paxson went in for a fast break layup. They took the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter at 79-77 when Elvin Hayes could not hold on to a Grevey pass. The Blazers got the ball and another easy layup from Paxson, who finished with 20 points.
"I did not feel at all good in the third quarter," Shue said. "Everything they did was great. We just couldn't recover. We had this same problem in Detroit (Saturday when the Bullets lost by two points). There was no doubt we should have won that game. We're breaking down with mental errors."
Of course, it didn't help that the Blazers, who have now won nine games on the road, shot 70 percent in the second half of that the Bullets couldn't stop their transition game. "Kermit (Washington) and Mychal Thompson were able to get the rebounds and that allowed us to get out," said Ransey, who also had three early fouls. "We got a couple of three-on-twos. It's hard to stop us on that kind of game."
The Bullets tied the score at 82 at the beginning of the fourth quarter on a a three-point play by Grevey and again at 84, but before they did Porter picked up his fifth foul, on a charge. Porter went out of the game and less than three and a half minutes later the Bullets were down by 10. With the score, 94-90, the Blazers scored six unanswered points on two baskets by Billy Ray Bates (11 points) and a blocked shot and a layup by Washington.
The Bullets were still within 10 with five minutes to go. Then it was 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and you had to wonder if they weren't beginning to think there's no place like the road.
The Bullets had 21 fast-break points in the first half, but went 20 minutes into the second half without a fast-break score. And by the end, there was just as much interest in long-injured Bobby Dandridge's presence on the bench -- in uniform -- than in the Bullet performance.