The Washington Bullets saw a short streak of a positive nature ended by a negative one of longer standing tonight at Reunion Arena. Before a sellout crowd of 17,007, the Bullets lost their fifth straight NBA game on the road and saw a three-game winning streak fall by the wayside, 112-99.
There was a moment early in the fourth quarter that seemed to capture the essense of the Bullets' frustration tonight. A member of the Mavericks missed a jump shot, another grabbed the rebound. Another shot was missed, another offensive rebound gathered. Then, a foul was called on the Bullets.
That sequence was topped late in the game, when Mavericks guard Brad Davis rebounded teammate Derek Harper's miss. Given a second chance, Davis hit a three-point field goal to make it 101-89 with 4:19 remaining. The Bullets then were called for a three-second violation and once again the Mavericks capitalized, scoring on a layup by Jay Vincent that effectively iced the game.
In falling to 6-9, the Bullets were led by Jeff Ruland and Jeff Malone, who each scored 20 points. Ruland, the Bullets' center, also had 12 rebounds. Harper came off the bench to lead Dallas (7-7) with 21 points, but the team's inspiration was provided by another substitute.
James Donaldson, a 7-foot-2, 280-pound center acquired late Monday night for center Kurt Nimphius in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, was given a standing ovation then went out and scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 26 minutes of play.
"I thought he was the catalyst tonight," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Just coming to the team like he did, I thought he did a remarkable job. They went to him and he responded."
Only two of Donaldson's rebounds were offensive and the Mavericks had just 11 for the game, but most of them came in bunches and at inopportune times for Washington.
Dallas held a 52-49 halftime lead and the teams seesawed throughout the third period. With 2:26 remaining in that quarter, Dan Roundfield scored to cut the Mavericks' advantage to 78-76. Dallas scored the next 10 points -- three of the baskets came after offensive rebounds -- and created a deficit too large for the visitors to come back. In the final period, the Bullets got no closer than seven points.
"We had our chances, we just didn't play well enough to win," said Ruland. "Every man on their team was hitting the boards and we just didn't check them off. They've got some big guards who rebound and all their small forwards hit the boards well."
Shue felt that that task was made easier by the lineup the Bullets had during that third-quarter stretch, a group that didn't include Ruland or forward Cliff Robinson.
In their places were Tom McMillen and Darren Daye. Those two played well offensively but found themselves short-handed -- if not just too short -- on defense.
"I was aware of what was going on," said Shue. "We needed them in offensively but they (Dallas) beat us on the boards two or three times. You try to get by with things but . . . "
Apparently, Shue has decided that his team no longer can get by with sporadic play from the backcourt. "We did some good things but we still have trouble scoring," Shue said. "We do need help at guard, there's no doubt about it."
To that end, Shue said that Frank Johnson is expected to join the Bullets before Wednesday's game in San Antonio against the Spurs. At that time a decision will have to be made regarding who will be trimmed from the roster. All indications are that it will be rookie Perry Moss.
Tonight, Moss, a free agent from Northeastern, entered the game with 3:27 to play in the opening quarter. Five seconds later he threw a pass out of bounds and 11 seconds after that fouled Harper, who was scoring on a layup. Shue pulled him at that point and Moss didn't return to the game until 48 seconds remained.
"We won't make a move or announce anything until I see him here, but I'm told that Frank will be given the okay to play tomorrow," said Shue.
The Bullets only can hope that the fifth-year veteran, who hasn't played this season while recovering from a broken bone in his left foot, makes the same kind of debut with Washington that Donaldson did with Dallas.
"I appreciated that welcome the fans gave me," Donaldson said. "When people get behind you like that you want to do well for them. We had a short workout before the game and I got to meet everybody, but I only got four or five of the plays down. That was all I could handle."
On this occasion, that was more than enough.