At times during the Washington Bullets' current NBA season-opening two-game winning run, Coach Gene Shue has resembled a tormented soul, tinkering away with a secret formula. If something he sees doesn't appeal to him, he bellows a quick "Time out!" and goes back to the drawing board for another play or another player.
Given the victories over the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers with just 91 and 90 points allowed, respectively, there seems to be method to the madness. And, according to Shue, the crowd of 8,000 expected at Capital Centre for tonight's home opener against the Cavaliers shouldn't be surprised to see more of the same.
The Bullets players certainly won't be.
"No question, he'll yank you in a second," said center Jeff Ruland, who fell one assist short of double figures in points, rebounds and assists for the second consecutive game with 14, 13 and nine, respectively, in Washington's 97-90 victory over Cleveland Tuesday night at Richfield, Ohio.
Ruland was immune from the displeasure Shue expressed early in the game. After spending one timeout when his team fell behind, 8-2, in the opening two minutes, the coach had to use another to stop the action three minutes later when the Cavaliers increased their lead to 14-5.
A similar situation occurred Friday night in Atlanta, when Shue pulled Gus Williams from the game, replacing him with Perry Moss. On Tuesday, Williams once again came out, this time being joined on the bench by Jeff Malone and Charles Jones a little later.
Their replacements, Moss, Kenny Green and Darren Daye, helped get the Bullets back on course. Green, making his first appearance as a guard after Shue switched him from a forward spot last week, scored 12 points, including six in a 21-5 Bullets spurt with which Washington took control. It also was Green's first appearance in regular season NBA play, Shue never having found a spot for him in the Atlanta game.
Williams, Malone and Jones made large contributions to the victory later, underscoring the leeway the Washington coaching staff has to adjust to situations. Even 7-foot-7 Manute Bol chipped in, scoring six points in 10 minutes of play.
Most aware of the team's depth is Shue, who in the past has not been one to use regularly all the players at his disposal, arguing that only a limited number saw action during the playoffs anyway. He has changed his mind.
"Before, I kept players in the game because I didn't have the people to substitute with," he said. "That's changed. Now, I know that there are other people here who can do the job."
One of those people, forward Dan Roundfield, scored 13 third-quarter points at Richfield. In the same period, the Bullets defense held the entire Cleveland team to that amount.
With forward Cliff Robinson, who led the Bullets in scoring in the opener with 22 points in 36 minutes, out with an eye inflammation, Roundfield turned from a two-point scorer in 26 minutes at Atlanta to a 17-point producer in 34 minutes.
Only Ruland, on the court 85 of 96 minutes, played more than three quarters in either game.
In the first two quarters the Cavaliers had eight offensive rebounds. During the second half they had only four. "I don't think any came in that third period," said Bullets assistant coach Don Moran.
"That was the difference in the game," said Williams.
"Early, every shot they took it seemed like they got another two or three. Once we adjusted to it, it made it harder for them to score."
Perhaps the Bullets' next trick should be figuring out a way to take control at the start of a game, making Shue's adjustments unnecessary. In addition to their lack of rebounding, the Bullets' starters were having trouble from the field. In the opening 17:39 against Cleveland, Washington starters scored three baskets.
Williams said the situation in Atlanta was a result of the Hawks coming out sky-high for their season opener.
In both cases, he said, "Our troubles happened very early. I'd rather have all our problems come then rather than late in a game. When you get in trouble later, it makes it a lot tougher to get the momentum switched back your way."
The Cavaliers are looking to find the confidence that characterized their play late last season, when they made the playoffs in a rush and pushed the Boston Celtics in the first round of postseason play.
According to Coach George Karl, his 0-3 team is playing timidly, especially on offense. "Shots that I like, that our guys usually like to take, we're turning down," he said. The Cavaliers shot only 38 percent Tuesday night.
"Three weeks ago we were playing well and having fun doing it. Now we're pressing," Karl said.
Daye did not participate in practice yesterday because of a sore back but is expected to play tonight.