he Washington Bullets, having just completed a road trip on which they won only one of six games, are at a crucial point in their season. The next three weeks could determine whether they have a chance at making the National Basketball Association playoffs.
They broke for the all-star game 16 days ago, playing perhaps their best basketball of the season. At that point, they had won six of seven games.
Then they hit the road.
They return, following Saturday night's 125-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets, with 13 defeats in their last 14 games away from Capital Centre.
There is reason to be concerned.
The Bullets (25-30) are in last place in the Atlantic Division and trail New York, Detroit and Atlanta in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and looking for answers.
"I don't know what there is left to try," said Coach Gene Shue.
Seven of the Bullets' next 11 games will be at Capital Centre and five of the 11 will be against the Hawks and Knicks. Also included, though, will be two games with Philadelphia and one with Milwaukee.
"We don't have much leeway anymore," said Shue. "We're in an almost must-win situation from here on out. This trip was obviously not a good one. I had hoped we would come back after the layoff and steal that first game, but Golden State played good and we couldn't do much about that. And then we went to Seattle and Portland and . . . "
The only team the Bullets beat on the trip was Utah, 99-98.
"Six of our next eight are at home, and we've been playing well there, so just going home should help," said guard Frank Johnson. "Those games are very important. We have to do well and hope for the best."
"I'm glad this trip is over," Don Collins said. "It's been a long 16 days. We have to put these last few games behind us, go to practice Monday and start all over again."
The Bullets' next game will be Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks at Capital Centre.
The biggest concern Shue has now, as he and Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff try to put the pieces back together, is getting inside offense from someone other than Jeff Ruland.
Rick Mahorn and Spencer Haywood played poorly on the trip. Between them they scored a total of 38 points. Ruland scored 37 in one game.
"Spencer has had problems all year," said Shue, "but we haven't been getting anything from Rick lately, either. I'm going to have a talk with him because we have to have him producing more if we expect to win."
Shue made Ruland the starter four games ago and he scored 31, 31 and 37 in his first three starts and had 19 against the Nuggets. He was kicked in the calf in the first period and was bothered by the injury the rest of the game.
The Bullets aren't expected to know the seriousness of the injury until Monday.
The Bullets tried to run with the Nuggets, but could keep up for only about a quarter and a half as they tired and Denver pulled away in the second half. Alex English, the NBA's leading scorer, had 34 points. Greg Ballard had 29 for the Bullets, but 23 were in the first half.
The Bullets were outrebounded in all six games. The Bullets have taken 31 three-point shots in the last six games and made 13 of them.