Bullets Coach Gene Shue said yesterday he is contemplating lineup changes in the face of three straight losses that have dimmed his team's once-bright prospects for an advantageous position in the National Basketball Association playoffs.
"We're still in a good position, but I'm not pleased with the last two games," Shue said, referring to losses Friday and Saturday nights at New Jersey and Atlanta that left the Bullets (37-37) tied with Atlanta for the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference. They trail fourth-place New Jersey (39-36) by 1 1/2 games. The top six teams gain the playoffs; Detroit (35-40), in seventh place, trails Washington and Atlanta by 2 1/2 games.
"We have to perform better. I don't know what I'm going to do, but there is a possibility I could make some changes," he said. "I just don't know right now. I have to do some thinking. With only eight games left, though, there aren't too many changes you can make."
The most likely change would be John Lucas for Frank Johnson at point guard.
Shue benched Johnson early in the first quarter of the 106-101 loss at Atlanta as the Bullets fell 14 points behind after the first quarter. Lucas, playing 40 minutes, had 13 points, 13 assists and no turnovers. Johnson played only 16 minutes, making one of three shots and having one assist.
Lucas lost his starting job to Johnson March 17 when he failed to show up for a game in Philadelphia, and the two have split playing time since.
"I'm ready to play as much and as long as Gene needs me to play," Lucas said. "Whatever I can do to help is fine. We've been a team with our backs against the wall all season, so this is no different. We have to pull together, and we'll be all right."
Getting more playing time for Jeff Ruland is also on Shue's mind. Ruland played 39 minutes against Atlanta and scored a season-high 28 points. Rick Mahorn played only 22 minutes.
Garry Witts also has put himself back in the picture. He played 23 minutes against the Hawks and had eight points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals and no turnovers.
It is important to finish fourth in the conference because that team gets the home court advantage in a best-of-three miniseries against the fifth-place team. The sixth-place team plays a miniseries against the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston and Milwaukee, as division winners, draw first-round byes.
The Bullets are in their current position less than a week after they were on a four-game winning streak. But they lost at Boston by 10 points Wednesday, then lost the final two games of a road trip.
The first of the Bullets' eight remaining games is against Cleveland Tuesday night at Capital Centre. They also have two games against Milwaukee and single games against Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Jersey, Chicago and Indiana.
"We have a very tough schedule left," said Shue, "and the players know it. There's only eight games left, so we can't worry much about who we're playing. We just have to play hard the whole game every game."