Midway through practice yesterday at Bowie State College, Bullets Coach Gene Shue stalked to midcourt, arms spread and eyes wide with disbelief.
"What's going on here?" he demanded. "What are you guys running? What kind of offense is this?"
One can only imagine the depth of his frustration. The Washington Bullets have lost three of their last four games and have exceeded 100 points only once since center Jeff Ruland went out of the lineup two weeks ago with a chipped right ankle.
On Sunday, they tied a National Basketball Association record for futility by scoring 25 points in the second half of a 100-93 loss to the New York Knicks. The night before, they got 35 points in the second half in losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, 96-84.
The problem is simple; solutions aren't.
"With Jeff in the lineup, we were getting about 103 points a game," Shue said. "It took us awhile to jell and get our offense in gear, but we are moving in a positive direction.
"Now we have to readjust our points. We've inserted a defensive player (7-foot-7 rookie Manute Bol) for an offensive player. So where does the offense come from?"
The Bullets find themselves in the same situation as last season, when Ruland missed more than 40 games with a shoulder injury: They lack an inside game and must shoot from long range.
Rather than try to work Bol into the offense, Shue said he would let Bol concentrate on defense and continue running plays designed to free guard Jeff Malone and forward Cliff Robinson. During five-on-five scrimmages yesterday, Shue moved Darren Daye into the first-team lineup while Bol sat and watched, holding ice on his slightly swelled right knee.
"Basically, we're going to have to win games on defense," Shue said. "We're not going to be getting the points in the paint and we're not going to be getting the free throws. So we're emphasizing defense. That's Manute's strength and we'll just try to take advantage of his strength.
"Offensively, it comes down to this: Would you rather have Malone shooting jump shots or Manute? Do you want (Tom) McMillen and Robinson working down low or Manute?"
Shue said he plans no major changes, but "we'll run when we can," he said.
Shue said Gus Williams, who started the season at point guard, would continue to be a reserve. "He's been giving us a real lift," Shue said. "I can't find any fault with that."
Williams said he doesn't mind the switch, as long as the team benefits. "The important thing," he said, "is working this thing out together and trying to be consistent. A streak like this is always frustrating, especially when you're accustomed to winning, but it's a good frustration because, when you look at it, things could be a lot worse."
Shue plans to give more time to rookie forward Kenny Green, who had nine points against the Knicks and could develop into the one-on-one player Shue covets. "We've been trying to work him in," he said.
Shue also is counting on Dan Roundfield to break out. The veteran forward took extra shooting practice in hopes of ending his slump.
"You never know in this game," Roundfield said. "Some nights you're on, some nights you're off. And I've been off."
As for the Bullets' woes, Roundfield thinks he's found a remedy.
"We've really got to just work on defense and hold a team under 100, and then if we score 100 and get some easy baskets, we'll be okay. I don't think you can panic. We've just got to work it out with what we've got." Knicks 113, Celtics 104
Patrick Ewing scored a season-high 32 points, including 18 during a second-half comeback, and Rory Sparrow had 22 points as New York overcame a 25-point deficit to win at home in double overtime. It was New York's third straight victory and Boston's fifth loss in nine games.
The Knicks, who trailed by 58-33 with 6:39 left in the third period, rallied within 86-84 before Sparrow's two foul shots with 34 seconds left tied the game. Boston tookt a 97-92 lead with 1:09 left in the first overtime, but Ewing made a jumper and Trent Tucker tied it with a three-point basket.
Ewing's jumper 56 seconds into the second overtime broke a 99-99 tie and Gerald Wilkins made it 103-99 with another jumper.
The Celtics drew with 103-100, but Sparrow made two baskets during a 10-0 run. Trail Blazers 121, Clippers 107
Kiki Vandeweghe scored 26 points to lead the victory in Portland, Ore.
Portland had six players in double figures to help offset Marques Johnson's 31 points for Los Angeles.
The Trail Blazers outscored the Clippers by 20-7 to open the second quarter, took a 71-55 halftime lead and were never threatened.
Portland got 16 points from Mychal Thompson, and 14 each from Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler.