Even though they were playing without two starters, the Washington Bullets pulled out a 100-97 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Central Division leaders, last night. But Coach Gene Shue was less than satisfied, often voicing his displeasure throughout his 697th career victory, played before a crowd of 7,524 in Capital Centre.
"I thought we should have won the game rather easily, that we should have had total control," he said afterward. "Milwaukee came back pretty good, but we made it easy for them and they had a chance at the end of the game."
Indeed, down by 99-93 with only 21 seconds to play, Paul Pressey of the Bucks made a rare four-point play -- a three-point field goal and foul shot -- to draw within a basket. After Frank Johnson made one of two free throws with one second to play, the Bucks nearly tied the score at the buzzer, Craig Hodges' attempt from three-point distance bouncing off the rim.
The Bullets increased their season record to 12-7 and their recent streak to 10-2.
The game was reminiscent of Bullets games of seasons past. Gus Williams, the crucial cog in the team's new fast-break offense, sat out the game with a strained left thigh muscle, suffered in the team's Friday night win at Detroit. In addition, Rick Mahorn sat out his third straight game with a tender left ankle.
But the Bucks, who had already beaten the Bullets twice this season, were also hurting. All-star guard Sidney Moncrief, hobbled by a sore left knee and right arch, didn't accompany the team to Landover, while back court mate Mike Dunleavy played only five minutes before a sore back forced him to the bench.
Even Cliff Robinson, Mahorn's replacement in the starting lineup, was suffering from a trace of flu. Sluggish at the start, he came through by game's end, scoring eight points in the final period and finishing with a team-high 20.
Milwaukee's Terry Cummings was the game's high scorer with 26 points. Charles Davis, an ex-Bullet, replaced Moncrief and scored 25 points.
"I felt I had to get psyched up for the second half," Robinson said, "that the team would really need someone at the end of the game. It was the first time I really felt out of sync this year."
Entering the game's fourth quarter with a 79-70 lead, the whole Bullets team fell out of sync, Milwaukee scoring 11 of the first 16 points in the quarter to draw within 84-81. The lapse was due in part to the swarming Bucks' defense that seemed to befuddle the home team.
"We really weren't getting the ball to the right people at the right time," Shue said. "Too often it was, 'Whom should I pass to, where should I pass it.' "
With the offense in disarray, it was the Bullets' defense that eventually came to the fore in the period, forcing Milwaukee to turn the ball over six times and setting up the game's hectic finish.
Injuries, of course, are the bane of every team and something that the better ones overcome, which in part accounted for Shue's displeasure, despite his missing starters.
"I don't want any excuses," he said. "I just want to keep winning. It is important to be able to win when you have people out, and we won, so that should be more important than anything I've said. It's just that we would have been explosive with Gus in the lineup, the game would have been over early."
Shue could have found someone to commiserate with in Don Nelson, the Milwaukee coach. The kingpins in the NBA's Central Division for the last four years, the team is undergoing a youth movement on top of its assorted injuries.
"All you can do is try to accentuate the positives," Nelson said. "In our case, that means getting our bench into the action, seeing how they perform under pressure. Hopefully, when everyone is healthy, they'll be able to mesh together."
That's what Shue is hoping for with the Bullets. Mahorn is expected to return to the lineup for Thursday night's game against the Indiana Pacers here, but Williams' status won't be determined until a doctor's examination Wednesday.