The Seattle SuperSonics left the Kingdome floor Wednesday night with their heads down and boos ringing in their ears.
"Why don't you guys all go to Italy and give us a Continental League expansion team in your place?" one spectator yelled at a team that four years ago won an NBA championship.
The Sonics had just lost their fourth straight game, and 17th in their last 22, with a fourth quarter that was a comedy of errors to most in the disenchanted crowd of 17,870. The Sonics failed to score in the final 3 minutes 42 seconds against the Boston Celtics in a 108-100 loss.
"Sometimes we don't even have enough sense to just run a simple pick-and-roll play," said Fred Brown.
In the last two minutes Wednesday, the Sonics committed a silly inbounds violation; let 6-foot-2 Gerald Henderson get the offensive rebound after Kevin McHale missed two free throws; missed two layups; fumbled the ball out of bounds twice, and threw it away once.
"I want to say we aren't executing," said Coach Lenny Wilkens, whose team plays the Bullets here Friday night. "But we're turning the ball over so much that we aren't giving ourselves the chance to see if we can execute or not."
Center James Donaldson probably summed up the Sonics' plight best: "It was frustrating playing them (the Celtics) because there was a time when we were just as good as they are."
The Sonics won their first 12 this season. Then they started getting nagging injuries, the most critical to David Thompson (knee) and Jack Sikma (ankle). Wilkens had to tinker with his lineup and the team had no continuity or rhythm.
Every Sonic, with the exception of recent additions Steve Hawes and John Greig, have started at least two games, and no player has started every game. The Sonics have used nine starting lineups.
Nothing seems to help. The Sonics were 2-12 in January and lost eight in a row. In that stretch, owner Sam Schulman said everyone was on the trading block. The only player to go was reserve forward Ray Tolbert and the Sonics got Hawes from Atlanta in a three-team deal.
"Our troubles are just a question of us getting back to the fine-tuned rhythm," said Wilkens. "I think we can do it. You have to keep encouraging the guys, but at the same time, let them know when they are screwing things up. We didn't make a lot of moves because I think they would have been out of panic, and when you make panic moves you move the wrong people. I believe in the players we have, and if I didn't, they wouldn't still be here."
The Sonics have an interesting offense. Guard Gus Williams is given a green light to do virtually whatever he wants. He is as effective in the open court as anyone else in the league.
But when the Sonics aren't running, they are hurting. Sikma is their primary scoring threat in the half-court game. When he is off, as he was against Boston (three for 15), the Sonics are in trouble.
Critics say they don't have a point guard, having traded last year's starter, Bill Hanzlik, to Denver for Thompson, whose arthritic right knee has thrown his game off.
They also need a small forward. Danny Vranes and Greg Kelser have split the time most, but Wilkens often uses 6-foot-8 Lonnie Shelton to make up a massive front line with Donaldson (7-2) and Sikma (6-11).
"It's too late for us to change everything," said Wilkens, "an we believe in our system, but we will be adding and deleting some little things. Time is running out on us."
Bullets guard Frank Johnson, who missed Tuesday's game at Golden State because of a jammed toe on his right foot, is expected to play Friday.