Even high and mighty NBA teams like the Boston Celtics aren't immune to problems, according to their coach, K.C. Jones.
"We're playing Atlanta at home and we come out like we've got glue on our feet," he said following his team's 88-73 victory over the Washington Bullets at Capital Centre Saturday night. "Then we act like we don't know play one from play two. Whatever the Bullets' problems are, I know they'll solve them. But I've got my own to deal with."
That the Celtics are residing alone atop the Atlantic Division with a 4-1 record despite their woes only underscores the difference between Boston and Washington. The Bullets also have had difficulties offensively, and what they have to show for it is a 2-2 record.
"We're running plays but we're just not executing, that's got to come," said Coach Gene Shue. "Our offense is designed for the players to get the ball in a certain area where they can do something with it. But we haven't reached that point yet."
That lack of continuity has been painfully obvious this season. Washington's most effective offense has been isolating two players on one side of the court, a maneuver that's productive in spurts but not as a main course of attack.
Jones, among others, is mystified by Washington's problems. "Look at who they've got," he said. "Gus Williams, Cliff Robinson and Jeff Malone can all take the pill and fire it from the outside. Dan Roundfield is good and when you throw it down low to Jeff Ruland, it's an automatic two points."
Against Boston, the Bullets planned on showcasing that array of talent by spreading out the court and running the ball. But that strategy had little success; the Bullets were just nine of 21 from the field in the first quarter and 13 of 46 at the half.
"We tried to open the game up; in order to play effectively inside you have to be able to hit the jumper," Shue said. "We wanted to get everyone off (to a good start) but what happened was that no one did."
Despite Washington's offensive futility, there has been some inspired defensive play. Because of the Bullets' poor team shooting (just over 40 percent) and rebounding (a 179-162 deficit), the opposition has had plenty of opportunities with the ball, yet the Bullets have given up only 96 points per game, the best average in the league. Entering the game against Boston, the Bullets also had yielded the lowest percentage of field goals made.
"We stressed defense so much during training camp, there was so much attention going to it. You got to have the same kind of intensity on offense," said Robinson, an important scorer who missed two of the four games with an eye injury and played the last one in goggles. "We've all got to come together at the same time, rebounding and getting our fast break going, stuff like that."
According to Boston guard Dennis Johnson, that's the right idea. Whether the Bullets can find the physical and emotional wherewithal to get the job done remains to be seen.
"You've just got to find your own way and yet rely on your teammates," Johnson said. "We've been starting out slowly this year. How do you stop it? I don't know, it happened all last year too. We'd get into a hole at the start (of a game) and then have to fight like hell just to get back into it."
When the Bullets won their first two games this season, Shue said he was not concerned about the slow starts. After they lost to Cleveland Thursday, Shue said he wasn't as concerned but added, "Talk to me after Saturday's game."
Now the problem has been acknowledged and Shue admits that something needs to be done, that his team doesn't have the luxury of waiting for things to right themselves.
"There are some things that I'll be looking at in practice," he said, intimating that some changes may be in order. "I'll have some patience, but I'm not going to sit by and watch us get off to a slow start."