The Washington Bullets, reeling from consecutive losses at Capital Centre, return to the road for a game tonight against the New Jersey Nets with a different starting lineup, Charles Jones replacing Dan Roundfield at the power forward spot.
According to Coach Gene Shue, the change shouldn't be regarded as a demotion to Roundfield, just an acknowledgement that "Dan is a little behind in terms of execution."
Shue said Jones, a diligent worker, is more comfortable right now in the Bullets' meticulous offense. Roundfield didn't argue with the coach's opinion. "I'm sure I'll still get my minutes. I'll have to work harder on my own to get ready," he said.
Jones had started Washington's first three games but didn't play in last Saturday's 88-73 loss to Boston. Jones has averaged 19 minutes a game, 4 rebounds and 3.6 points; Roundfield has averaged 34 minutes, 7.5 rebounds and 9 points.
Shue said he stayed awake much of Saturday night following the nightmarish loss to Boston "going over combinations of players in my mind. For what we want to do, we need certain players on the floor at certain times."
One of the players who has made the most of his time whenever he's appeared has been Darren Daye. Averaging 22 minutes, 12.5 points and 4 rebounds, Daye is one of the few Bullets playing with aggression. Placing Daye into the starting lineup would seem to be a natural move, but Shue doesn't believe that's the way to go.
"Darren has played very well and he'll get a lot of minutes," he said. "But if you start him, what does that do to Dan, or to Charles? What does that do to the combinations off the bench?"
By no means has Roundfield been Washington's sole problem anyway. The 10-year veteran has made a number of marvelous plays, solely through instinct. Now they must be incorporated in the Bullets' structured system. General Manager Bob Ferry said it was unrealistic to expect that to happen so early in the season because Roundfield missed the entire exhibition season with a broken bone in his left arm.
"I think we were expecting miracles," he said. "Before he got hurt, Dan was dominating practices. But now that the season has begun, things have to be more structured than they were then. He's catching up with everyone else. It's not fair to expect him to be able to run plays and fit right in with everyone else, given the time he missed."
Ferry also agreed with Shue that experimenting with various combinations four games into the season isn't the best way to go. "The players that you normally rely on have to come together and play well," he said. "Your bench can only out-and-out win a few games for you. It's the people that you have out there on a regular basis who have to come through."
That definitely hasn't been the case so far this season, with the Bullets barely hovering over the 40 percent shooting mark from the field. Still, the team's hopes for their third consecutive victory on the road are bolstered by the fact that the Nets also are misfiring with regularity on offense, shooting 42 percent.
Unlike the Bullets, however, the Nets, scoring at a rate of 113 points per game, have gotten consistent production from a number of players. Guard Otis Birdsong is averaging 19 points and power forward Buck Williams, who had a number of spirited battles against Cliff Robinson last season, is averaging 18 points and 16 rebounds.
The Nets are also averaging 16 offensive rebounds per game, a statistic that doesn't bode well for Washington, which trails opponents by an average of 45-40 in total rebounds.