Talk replaced most of the action yesterday as the Washington Bullets looked within themselves for the cure for a malaise brought on by a four-game losing streak.
The Bullets will attempt to break that streak against the Detroit Pistons tonight at Capital Centre with another lineup change, Darren Daye replacing Charles Jones at forward.
Coach Gene Shue is making the change in an attempt to improve Washington's running game and, in turn, to produce more points. For the season, the Bullets are averaging only 94 points per game, almost negating the accomplishments of a defense that has held opponents to 96 points per game.
Shue emphasized those points to his team in a closed-door meeting during practice yesterday at Bowie State. That came after the coach had private talks off the floor with Daye and guard Gus Williams. While that was happening, assistant coach Fred Carter worked off to the side with guard Jeff Malone. And General Manager Bob Ferry, a former NBA center, even got into the act, huddling with Jeff Ruland in a discussion on how to better get the center open underneath the basket.
That was the tone of the entire practice, which was more rap session than workout. "I told them about how well I think they've been playing defense and how hard I thought they played last night," said Shue. "We just haven't been running. I think we'll see that with this lineup change. With Darren in there, we'll run better and execute better, I know that."
Daye really earned this opportunity last year late in the season and during the playoffs against Philadelphia. The third-year forward also played well during the recently completed exhibition season.
But he was put on hold in the interest of developing the Cliff Robinson-Dan Roundfield forward tandem as well as by the presence of Jones and first-round draft choice Kenny Green.
Shue has said he was aware of Daye's fine play but preferred bringing him into the game off the bench. The drought in points has changed his mind.
The Bullets originally had fancied themselves as an almost hybrid offensive team, capable of playing both the running game and the power game. Lately, very little of either has been displayed.
The power game has suffered from a lack of execution in running a set offense. According to Shue, the fast break has sputtered because all the necessary implements haven't been in place.
"That's not putting any blame on Gus (Williams) or on anyone," Shue said. "To run the break, you need to have both guards and the small forward out running. We haven't been getting that."
At times, it has appeared the break has been restricted by Shue in the interest of executing a set play.
"There have been times when I've gotten down court and seen Gus moving, and Gene or Fred (Carter) will jump up and holler, 'No, slow down!' and he jerks to a halt," said one Bullets big man. "I would think that a guard would lose his confidence in a situation like that."
Shue says that hasn't been the case. "I have never said anything but push the ball up the floor and run with it. We should attempt to do that every time we get the ball. But if I see one guard with it and no one else there, that's different. And when the break isn't there, there has to be a set play to fall back on."
Williams has not prospered in a half-court situation; his game is better suited to the open court. This season, the 10-year veteran is averaging just 11 points a game and shooting 43 percent from the field. Yesterday, he said he expected that to change, especially after his talk with Shue.
"It's really been a misunderstanding between us and Gene," he said. "We've been playing defense very hard and slowing down the game that way. Then, when we get the ball, we're caught between doing that and running.
"We were thinking that Gene wanted us to slow the ball down like that, and he was wanting us to run."
Tonight's game really isn't the ideal time for Washington to become a team of sprinters. The Pistons, led by all-pro guard Isiah Thomas, boast one of the NBA's best running teams and, more often than not, come out on the front end of run-and-gun affairs.
"The best way to play them is to control the tempo, something we normally do very well," said Shue. "We do want to run more, though. I guess the best thing to do is just pick our spots very well."