The Washington Bullets traveled west this week in the hopes of finding some sunshine along with some wins in their three games. Most team members figured the wins would come in the initial two games, against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers. But like the generally overcast West Coast weather, the Bullets disappointed, dropping both contests.
Faced with the prospect of the trip being a total washout, both aesthetically and athletically, Washington took on the Lakers at the Forum tonight. On this day, the weather cooperated but the Bullets didn't, losing their fourth straight game, 109-101.
James Worthy led the Lakers (16-10) with 26 points and 10 rebounds while Magic Johnson had a season-high 18 assists. The Bullets were led by Jeff Ruland's 24 points. Jeff Malone and Darren Daye each scored 20 points for Washington, now 14-11 for the season.
Besides a score identical to Saturday night's against the Clippers, tonight's game was similar in the sense that Washington, down 20 points, made a late run that gave the team an opportunity to win.
With 5 1/2 minutes to play, the Lakers were ahead by nine points, 101-92, but the Bullets went on a 7-4 run to close to 105-99. After a Los Angeles timeout with 1:43 to play, Gus Williams stole the basketball from Worthy and was fouled in the act of shooting.
The free throws could have cut the Lakers' margin to four but both shots were off and so were the Lakers, the cruncher coming at the 1:22 mark when Johnson scored a three-point play, putting them ahead, 108-99.
"The difference in the game," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue, "was the defensive pressure the Lakers put on us. We didn't handle it well at all."
In last Saturday's 101-98 Bullets win, the Lakers nearly stole a victory with a half-court trap. Tonight, the defensive tactic was successful not in the number of steals but in increasing the pace to one preferred by the Lakers.
"When you have a team like Washington that executes so well you have to take them out of what they do best," said Johnson. "Our pressure helps us do that and it also gets our running game going. When we press, they get scattered about the court, and when a shot goes up we're off the other way."
That fast break offense was helped by the Lakers' 49-33 rebounding margin. "Balls just weren't bouncing our way tonight," said Cliff Robinson, who had just six rebounds. "Normally, we don't get beaten that badly -- if we get beat at all."
Over the last four games things haven't been going the same way as in the previous 21 contests, although in this game the Bullets showed flashes of the ball movement and execution they had prior to this week's setbacks.
One bright spot for the Bullets was the play of Malone. Starting at guard in place of Dudley Bradley, Malone provided some much needed scoring at the start of the game, a period that generally has been slow for Washington.
Shue seemed encouraged, saying he felt the team "is ready to get back home and start playing good ball again," but Ruland wasn't as certain that improved play was much consolation for losing.
"That's sort of like the Miss America pageant, you might look good but you just didn't have that little something extra that was needed," he said. "We do know that things will happen over the course of a long season, but we need to come back and get some wins."