When Cliff Robinson stepped onto the Capital Centre floor with his teammates before Wednesday night's game against the San Antonio Spurs, he almost looked twice at his uniform to be sure that the teammates were indeed the Washington Bullets.
"An empty gym, a cold floor. I told Dudley (Bradley) that it reminded me of being in Cleveland," Robinson said.
In fact, the announced crowd of 5,014 was 61 people fewer than the Cavaliers, who traded Robinson to Washington, averaged last season. "That's what I'm used to. Unless it was Philly, Boston or the Lakers we never had a big crowd," Robinson continued. "I learned not to worry about it, to go out and do what you have to do, but, team-wise, it would help having more people there."
Robinson, who scored 19 points and got 10 rebounds Wednesday, is quite capable of doing what has to be done. And, given the Bullets' efficiency in their 125-106 rout of the Spurs, small crowds haven't hurt things too much.
The Bullets now are 6-5 with a four-game winning streak. The second victory of the modest streak was another blowout, 112-95, at the expense of the Boston Celtics before 14,395 at Capital Centre, many of whom had come out to root for the visitors.
The problem of attendance is not new for the Bullets. Although they averaged only 7,920 fans last season, Coach Gene Shue believes that the problem of playing before small crowds will be only short term. "It's just like I've been saying about our team and the injuries, it's gonna take some time," he said. "For a few years the team was on a downward slide, but when people realize that we're competitive and exciting I really believe at some point they'll come back."
Perhaps it was because of the sparse crowd that the Bullets were slow to get started against San Antonio. The Spurs were led early by Mike Mitchell and Artis Gilmore. Mitchell and Gilmore scored 17 of their team's 26 points the first quarter, which ended with the Spurs holding a four-point advantage.
The margin didn't stand up as the Bullets shot 72 percent the second quarter. The most productive Bullets came off the bench. Jeff Malone scored 12 of his 14 points in the second 12 minutes while Darren Daye, en route to a career-high 21 points, had seven. Robinson made his mark after halftime, making six consecutive shots in the third quarter as the Bullets turned the game decidedly in their favor.
The Bullets' winning streak has matched their longest of last season, but area fans aren't the only ones uncertain whether the team is for real. Apart from the large attendance for the Boston game and big opening night crowds in Chicago and Indianapolis in the first two games of the season, the Bullets have yet to play before a crowd of 10,000 or more.
The skepticism has extended onto the playing floor. Bernard King of the New York Knicks -- who will play at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30 -- was quoted after the Bullets' 103-92 victory Tuesday as being disappointed about his squad "letting a team like Washington come to Madison Square Garden and beat them." San Antonio Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said Wednesday his Spurs "let a team that struggles to score 100 points a night look like an offensive machine."
According to Shue, the Bullets aren't exactly sneaking up on their opponents. "Players and coaches around the league had to know we were going to be improved because our talent was greater. But until you go out on the floor and do it every night, nothing is proven."
Entering Wednesday night's game, the Bullets were ranked third behind Houston and Milwaukee in defense, allowing 102.3 points per game. Individually, guard Gus Williams, 20th in the league in scoring at 21 points per game, ranked first in steals, averaging 3.2. Ruland was third in the league in rebounding, at 13.1 per game.