Bullets Coach Gene Shue certainly had reason for concern yesterday after his team easily defeated the Indiana Pacers, 114-89, before 5,721 at Capital Centre.
Instead, Shue was smiling and playing down the Bullets' continued rebounding problems (they were outrebounded, 53-39) and a knee injury that limited starting forward Cliff Robinson to nine minutes playing time. In addition, center Jeff Ruland did not get a shot in the first half, but finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
But Washington guards had a hot day, led by Jeff Malone's 25 points. Dudley Bradley equaled his career high of 22, and Gus Williams had 17.
"I thought we played great," Shue said. "We shot a good percentage. We're still struggling with our rebounding, but that's partially due to Cliff not being able to play. I'm not going to worry about it. We're going to get better and better."
Robinson, who has started in recent weeks, was impressive in the first quarter, scoring 11 points as the Bullets went on a 16-2 streak and led, 18-12. But Robinson was favoring his right knee which was covered by a therapeutic wrap; he was replaced by Rick Mahorn with 3:29 to play in the first period and did not return.
"He has tendinitis in the right knee," Shue said. "It's day-to-day whether he will play. He won't practice tomorrow (Thursday). Hopefully he'll be able to play Friday (at home against Atlanta)."
With Robinson out, and both Mahorn and Ruland in foul trouble, the Pacers dominated the rebounding (continuing an eight-game trend for the Bullets). But the Bullets still had little trouble, shooting a season-high .645 from the floor for the first half and .551 for the game (43 of 78).
Bradley, who has been replaced by Malone in the starting lineup in recent weeks, was especially impressive. He made all five of his two-point attempts and three of six three-pointers. Two of his misses came at game's end when Shue called plays to give Bradley a chance at a career mark.
"Dudley played a great game," said Shue. "We were struggling in the second quarter, 'til he got us going. It's probably his best game this year."
"I didn't know it (that he had equaled the record)," said Bradley. "If I had, I'd probably have driven to the basket.
"They tried to deny Jeff (Ruland) the ball and that opened the lanes for the guards," Bradley said. "I felt good when I was shooting. There's no pressure for me to take the three-point shot. I took what they gave me."
Bradley came into the game late in the first period and he teamed with Malone to take the Bullets from a 26-25 deficit to a 55-45 lead. Malone had 10 points and Bradley seven by halftime as Ruland was held to a free throw.
Bradley's first three-pointer, with 1:30 left in the second period, gave Washington a 52-44 lead, and Williams ended the half with a three-pointer.
The Bullets (17-13 but 13-3 at home) had been outrebounded, 24-17, in the half and had taken only 31 shots to Indiana's 50. The Pacers were going to have to stop the guards. No way. And Ruland was to have his say.
"Most of my shots came at garbage time," said Ruland, who helped the Bullets move to a 17-point lead, 83-66, after three quarters. "They were double- and triple-teaming so I tossed the ball back out."
As the Bullets lead grew, Ruland found it easier to operate inside.
Indiana, whose 7-21 record is the second poorest in the league, was led by Clark Kellogg with 18 points, guard Vern Fleming with 14 and guard Jerry Sichting with 12.
"It's been a long trip for us (eight games, five on the road, over a two-week span)," said Shue. "All we've done is play -- we haven't had a chance to practice, to work out our problems. Remember, we're still a young team, eventually everything will pay off. There are slight weaknesses, but they will be corrected."