It doesn't take a department store Santa Claus to figure out what Gene Shue wants for Christmas.
Once again, for want of an outside scoring threat, the Bullets lost another game tonight, 92-90, to Chicago on a last-second shot by Rick Sobers. In their last game, the Bullets were beaten by Boston, 99-98, when a shot at the final buzzer fell short.
"It was the same old story," said a discouraged Shue, slumped against the wall in the training room at antiquated Chicago Stadium. "We just don't have the type of player who can get us a basket when the other team collapses on our inside men."
After Ronnie Lester tied the score at 88 with a foul shot, the Bulls started fronting the Bullets' big men, particularly high-scorer Greg Ballard, who had 32 points, and the Bullets never got another good shot.
"We couldn't get into our plays, we couldn't get the ball down low, and when that happens, you need a player who can get a basket on his own," Shue continued.
Shue's best one-on-one player, rookie Frank Johnson, was on the bench with a sprained ankle, so John Lucas was running the offense. Lucas is an excellent passer, but lacks the outside scoring ability to make him a threat at the end of a close game.
"When the clock runs down, you have a certain time when you just have to make something happen," Shue said. "The ball ended up with John, which it was supposed to, but he couldn't get a good shot."
Lucas made a desperation 18-foot shot to give the Bullets a 90-88 edge with 1:14 remaining. Jeff Ruland then deflected a Chicago pass to Lucas and the Bullets had a chance to double their advantage.
Again, they couldn't get the ball inside, and this time Lucas missed a jumper. Artis Gilmore (12 points) grabbed the rebound and threw a long pass to Reggie Theus, who beat Kevin Grevey for a layup to tie it with 32 seconds left.
During the ensuing timeout, Shue stressed getting the ball to Ballard or Ruland, but Chicago played aggressive defense. Lucas finally tried to drive, but bounced the ball off his foot out of bounds with 11 seconds to play.
"Everybody in the arena was guarding Ballard," Lucas said. "When Gilmore gets in the middle with those long arms, there's no chance for a lob. I didn't have much choice. It's just unfortunate that the ball went off my foot."
It has been Chicago's pattern all season to go to Sobers in pressure situations, and the reserve guard didn't let the Bulls down.
"Time was running out," he said. "Lucas went for the steal and almost got it. But that gave me a chance to get by him. Then I saw Ruland coming at me. I figured I could go around him, but he surprised me. He got his hand in my face and bothered me a little. He made me arc the ball a little higher, but it still wound up in the right place."
The Bullets played excellent defense, overcoming an 82-75 deficit with eight minutes remaining and holding the Bulls to eight points until Sobers' 20-footer, but the offense doesn't have the versatility necessary to win these types of games consistently.
"It's getting very frustrating losing games like this," Lucas said. "We just don't have balance. You can't keep going to the same players the whole game."
Ballard has had the brunt of the scoring burden because neither Grevey nor Rick Mahorn has been consistent. Grevey made only two of seven shots and Mahorn just four of 13. In his last two starts, Grevey has scored a total of eight points.
After falling behind, 51-42, by halftime, the Bullets rallied to tie the score at 62 on Lucas' jumper with five minutes left in the third quarter. They build a 70-64 advantage, only to fall behind 74-71 going into the fourth period.
Ballard had 29 points at that time, but then the Bulls started double-teaming him, leaving either Spencer Haywood or Jim Chones alone. The Bullets couldn't capitalize and trailed, 82-75, before their final, futile surge.