Not even a new lineup could change the plight of the Washington Bullets tonight as they continued their miseries on the road with a 104-95 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Memorial Coliseum.
The Bullets (24-28) have lost 11 straight games away from Capital Centre, three on this six-game road trip which will continue Tuesday in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz.
Portland (33-21) has the second-best record in the NBA Western Conference, behind the Los Angeles Lakers, and made the Bullets its fourth straight victim.
The Bullets, trailing by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, started connecting on three-point shots to get back in the game. Greg Ballard made one and Ricky Sobers two extra-pointers to cut Portland's lead to 92-85 with four minutes remaining. But Jim Paxson, who led the Trail Blazers with 26 points, scored four points in a row and the Bullets were held off.
The Bullets made five three-point shots in the fourth quarter.
Jeff Ruland led Washington with 31 points. Calvin Natt had 22 for Portland.
"If you take away Jeff's points and our three-point shots then we didn't have much offense," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "We were always hanging around but could never catch them. We got killed in the last two or three minutes in each of the first three quarters."
Shue, bothered by his team's slow starts the last two games, started Ruland in place of Spencer Haywood at power forward tonight.
Shue doesn't like to start Ruland because he tends to get into foul trouble and when he starts the Bullets don't have much firepower off the bench.
"I'm just juggling the lineup because we have to start winning some games," Shue said before tonight's game. "We want to get off to a faster start."
Haywood has been in and out of the lineup most of the season with an assortment of ailments and in the last two games totaled nine points and six rebounds. In six starts since missing two games with flu, Haywood has averaged only six points.
Ruland is the Bullets' second-leading scorer (16.8) and leading rebounder (10.7). His last start was Dec. 23.
Center Rick Mahorn hasn't been playing much better than Haywood (nine points and eight rebounds in last two games), but he is the cornerstone of the defense and there isn't really anyone to replace him if Shue did sit him down.
Charles Davis, one of Washington's best offensive players, was still suffering from neck spasms and didn't suit up the second straight game.
Rookie guard Lafayette (Fat) Lever, a Portland starter what with Darnell Valentine out the last five weeks with a fractured foot, scored six of his team's first eight points while the Bullets were totaling six. Then the Bullets scored seven straight points, three by Frank Johnson, to take a 13-8 lead.
The Bullets went scoreless the next three minutes, missing five straight shots, and fell behind, 15-12.
Ruland tied the score at 20 with a move inside, but Portland scored the next six points, on a rebound dunk by Wayne Cooper and fast-break baskets by Paxson and Natt.
Johnson made a long jumper at the buzzer to cut the Trail Blazers' lead to 26-22 at the period.
Ruland (nine) and Johnson (seven) totaled 16 of the Bullets' first-quarter points.
Portland moved to an eight-point lead on a goal by Hank McDowell with 7:20 left in the half. Shue then brought in Don Collins and the Bullets started running.
Collins and Ballard each scored four points in a 10-1 rally that gave the visitors a 38-37 lead with 5:53 to go. For a spell, Shue went with basically a three-guard offense of Collins, Sobers and Johnson.
Back-to-back 20-footers by Sobers gave the Bullets a 42-40 lead, but the Trail Blazers ended the half with a 12-2 burst to lead, 52-44.
Paxson had seven of the points, while the only points Washington scored came on a driving hook dunk by Mahorn over Mychal Thompson.
The Bullets were outrebounded, 25-18, in the first half and retrieved only one offensive miss.