By the middle of the second quarter it seemed appropriate to ask myself, why was I here? Why had I come to Capital Centre to see pro basketball in November ? What prompted me to drive all those hours from my home in the District to watch the 5-8 Washington Bullets play the 6-9 Chicago Bulls? Without Michael Jordan!
I must love the game.
Either that, or the lines are too long at the bowling alleys.
Can you believe that the NBA's regular season is already one-fifth over?
Let me put that another way: Do you care?
Considering that all anyone seems to care about is the playoffs -- and if that wasn't true, the NBA wouldn't provide that 16 of 23 teams get in -- shouldn't they be cutting down on the regular season? From exhibitions through the final round of the playoffs, the NBA season lasts nine months. Anything lasting nine months ends in labor pains.
Forget 82 games.
Play 15 regular-season games.
Seven home, seven away, and one in the West Edmonton Mall.
Then you eliminate Indiana (on general principle) and the remaining 22 zoom into the playoffs and begin the first of a possible eight best 15-of-29 series. With a consolation bracket and triple elimination, no team will play fewer than 75 games, or more than 350. In other words, just like it is now.
Anyway, to the subject at hand: the Bullets, now 6-8 after a 2-7 start.
A fairly distinctive-looking team, wouldn't you say? I mean you're unlikely to get Manute Bol confused with most TV weathermen, are you? Cliff Robinson? In those goggles he looks like a cross between Wilt and a shop teacher on "Misfits of Science." And gray-haired Tom McMillen and Dan Roundfield, and (my fellow in baldness) no-haired Gus Williams look like blind dates for "The Golden Girls."
Talk about digging themselves a hole. Seven losses in a row. Just what were the Bullets trying to do with that kind of excavation work, find oil?
"I would never have expected this team to lose seven in a row," a chagrined Bob Ferry, the general manager, said. "No, no, never," echoed Gene Shue, the coach.
Twice in these past two years, both times on Draft Day, Ferry and Shue have made bold, aggressive moves to improve the Bullets, understanding that to stand pat was the moral equivalent of going backward in the NBA's toughest division. Most notably they brought in Robinson, Roundfield and Gus. Teaming them with Jeff Ruland and Jeff Malone, and complementing those five with capable support troops in Frank Johnson, Charles Jones, Darren Daye and McMillen, Ferry and Shue could reasonably expect a team capable of greatness on some nights and very-goodness on most others. That's why the seven straight hurt so bitterly. With the 76ers primed to sink like a rock, the Nets an unknown factor -- now with their third coach in three seasons -- and the Knicks unable to compensate for the loss of Bernard King, a good start would have given credence to us optimists who believe it wouldn't be a shock if the Bullets finish second to the Celtics in the division. "We have a team of very good players, with starlike qualities," Ferry said. "Out of them, we need one who just won't let us lose."
The thing is, it had better be sooner, because it's not going to be too much later with this group. Gus and Roundfield are 32. That might not mean much on any given day, but it will when the given day comes on the fourth day of a four-game sprint. Unfortunately for a team with a limited shelf-life, injuries are again hampering the bonding process. Last season the Bullets finished 40-42 and were never really synchronized; injuries kept Ruland from 45 games, Johnson from 35 and Robinson from 22. This season injuries to Roundfield and Johnson have rudely interrupted the search for the elusive chemistry. "It's been very hard for Gene to read what he's got yet," Ferry said. Smiling sympathetically, Shue sighed, "The parts are all there, sometimes they're just not here."
Johnson, who has yet to play, is particularly missed, since neither Dudley Bradley nor Perry Moss delivers much offense off the bench, leaving the Bullets vulnerable in two ways. One: "I don't have any scoring to bring into the game," Shue admitted. Two: Gus. Gus, who's ready to shoot faster than a Minolta, has taken 233 shots, second only to Malone. That would be swell if they were coming in transition, where Gus excels. But they're not. In the eight losses Gus has shot a horrific 31 percent. Needless to say a team can't survive brickwork like that from one of its two catalytic players.
Although it's too soon to know, it appears the Bullets will make whatever moves they make without their draftees, Bol and their first pick, Kenny Green. Green, who was drafted specifically to provide instant offense, is so deep on the wood he may as well be a can of Pledge. Shue either can't or won't find Green many minutes. "I have to find some way to bring Kenny along," Shue said. "But this isn't a training school. I have to win." Bol was, is and will likely be a "project" for some time. "He'd be a major, major factor now if he had 25 more pounds," Ferry said. (And if Uncle Ed had wheels, he'd be a bicycle.) So don't toss that last piece of pumpkin pie on Thursday, send it to the Bullets. You too can contribute to a championship.