"Let's get something straight right now," said Washington Bullets' Coach Gene Shue to a group of reporters following his team's 112-106 victory over the Detroit Pistons Saturday night at Capital Centre. "During the season, I'm always worried. The only question is the degree of worriedness."
With eight victories in the last nine games under his belt, you'd think the coach would be able to relax a little while. Actually, that's all the time he has, for preparations already have begun for the upcoming week.
After winning three of four games in five nights, the Bullets face a similarly tough stretch this week. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia 76ers visit Capital Centre, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday. On the next night, the Bullets are traveling to Detroit to play the Pistons and returning home Saturday to face the Milwaukee Bucks.
None of the games will be easy. Philadelphia and Detroit will be looking for a measure of vindication for losses to Washington last week, while Milwaukee has easily beaten the Bullets twice this season. In one game, the Bucks held them to 79 points, the lowest amount scored by an NBA team in a single game this season.
Even the Cavaliers can't be taken for granted, although the team has won just one game so far this year. Last Wednesday, the Bullets played a Kansas City team that had only won twice and nearly let the Kings sneak out of town with a victory.
This week will find the Bullets going into play with a stronger back court but perhaps weaker up front. In 21 minutes against the Pistons on Saturday, reserve guard Frank Johnson scored 15 points, 12 in the fourth period.
Johnson, averaging five points over the previous eight contests entering Saturday night, began cold against Detroit, missing his first two shots. He found the range with a three-point shot early in the final period, however, the basket sending the team on its way to victory.
"That's the thing about tonight, I got to stay in the game," said Johnson. "Usually, if you don't hit your first couple of shots . . . "
Another rarely used player reserve who made a contribution was forward/center Tom McMillen. With Cliff Robinson forced into a starting role because of Rick Mahorn's tender ankle, McMillen played 14 minutes, all in the first half. Although he only had two free throws, McMillen, as he's wont to do, was able to throw his weight around underneath.
Mahorn is listed as day to day with his injury, which occured in a freakish accident during the Kansas City game. Backing up to the defensive end of the floor, Mahorn accidentally stepped on guard Jeff Malone, immediately reacting in pain. Although he finished that game, Mahorn was able to play only nine minutes two nights later against the Boston Celtics. He didn't even dress for the Pistons game Saturday.
Although some feel Mahorn's injury will open the door for a starting assignment for Robinson (24 points, 16 rebounds against Detroit), Shue would prefer that things remain as they are.
"We have to see how he feels before the next game but the team needs Rick in the rotation," said Shue. "As for Cliff, I don't think he minds coming off the bench; in fact, I think he rather enjoys it."
If the Bullets continue to play as they have in the past two weeks, perhaps the coach will be able to say that about himself, regardless of his worries.