Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin says he has confidence in Coach Gene Shue and he believes his team will be a contender for the NBA championship this year despite an early seven-game losing streak and defeats in eight of their last 10 games.
"I think that the talent here is better than any of our teams since the 1978-79 season. I have very high hopes for this team," Pollin said during Wednesday night's 101-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I'm just one guy who roots and sweats and cheers for them, but I think by the end of the season there are going to be a lot of surprised people."
Given Pollin's expectations and Washington's poor start, there had been some talk that perhaps Shue's job was in jeopardy. However, Pollin, who fired Gary Green as coach of the Washington Capitals just 13 games into the 1981-82 season, said that was "never, never the case.
"With Gary Green, it was a situation where he had lost confidence in the team and the players had lost confidence in him," Pollin said.
"That's not the case here. Gene is a very good, professional coach. I have confidence in him and in the abilities of the team. This is a super group of guys and we're not going to let any outside influences disrupt us.
"Just a couple of years ago, the hockey team lost six or seven games in a row and still finished well. The Seattle team that Gus (Williams) was on that won the NBA championship lost six games in a row early. Losing seven straight games isn't very pleasant but, again, it's a long season.
" . . . There are so many ups and downs in this business that I try and maintain an even keel," Pollin said. "There's a long way to go. It (the losing streak) certainly wasn't any time to start pushing panic buttons."
Pollin added that he stressed those same points to the team during a Nov. 14 meeting at Capital Centre. "I just wanted them to know that I have complete confidence in them, that I wasn't talking trades or anything else," he said. "I wanted to tell them that the top of the organization, which is me, wanted them to just relax, enjoy themselves and start to win."
Long before the season began, Pollin believed that there would be plenty of victories. In an interview last summer, he said that by midseason he expected the Bullets to be able to compete with the likes of the NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The basis for that optimism was the addition of veteran Dan Roundfield and draft choices Kenny Green and Manute Bol to a team that had traded for Williams and Cliff Robinson the year before. There also was the return of Jeff Ruland to the lineup after the center missed half of the previous season with a shoulder injury.
"Obviously I'm disappointed with a 4-8 record, but I don't think we've had the chance to have everyone together and playing, either," Pollin said. "If, in the next month or two, we're still playing at that 4-8 ratio, then I would really be unhappy. But I think that the team is going to start hitting its stride very soon."
Going into tonight's game against the New York Knicks, the Bullets already have accumulated 25 missed player games because of injuries, and Ruland may miss tonight's game because of a bruised shin that forced him to sit out two of the three previous games.
Ruland missed Saturday's 118-97 win over Philadelphia and Tuesday night's 98-94 loss to New York. He returned against the Cavaliers Wednesday, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds in 30 minutes.
Ruland sat out yesterday's practice at Bowie State, however, applying ice and a wrap to his injury.
On his way to therapy yesterday, Ruland said, "It feels like a chain saw, but I'm still considering it a bruised shin. There's no swelling, only a couple of knots."
The Knicks also have problems at center. Patrick Ewing, the former Georgetown all-America, will miss his second straight game for New York because of a sprained ankle he suffered against the Bullets Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Dave DeBusschere, the Knicks' executive vice president and director of basketball operations, said there was no swelling in Ewing's ankle and the tenderness was lessening. But he said Ewing definitely would not play against the Bullets.
DeBusschere said Ewing's condition would be reevaluated before Saturday night's home game against the Boston Celtics.
"It's possible he could play then," said a Knicks spokesman. Nuggets 121, Lakers 120
In Denver, Wayne Cooper's 20-foot jump shot with four seconds to play brought Los Angeles' winning streak to an end at seven games. The Nuggets' last home victory over the Lakers came 11 meetings previous, on Jan. 19, 1982.
The Lakers' final bid saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (game-high 32 points) miss a jump shot from the corner and a rebound shot by Magic Johnson fail to drop.
Denver (10-2) led by 20 points in the second quarter and 98-84 after three, but the Lakers (11-2) three times gained the lead. Trail Blazers 112, Clippers 108
Portland trailed, 108-107, in Los Angeles until Kenny Carr converted a rebound into a three-point play with 0:18 left. Portland broke a four-game losing streak and ran the Clippers' tailspin to eight games. Bucks 131, Kings 97
Milwaukee dominated inside and rarely missed the outside shot at Sacramento. Seven steals, four by Paul Pressey, helped the Bucks score 41 points in the third quarter and open a 40-point lead.