Once again hampered by an ineffective offense, the depleted Washington Bullets lost their fourth straight game and third on this five-game trip west, 109-97, to the Phoenix Suns tonight before 11,181 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
How bad did things get for the visitors, now 16-19 this season? How about the team running post-up plays for 7-foot-7 center Manute Bol on three consecutive possessions?
The move wasn't even done to get the rookie into the scorebook but rather to expose the Suns in a number of illegal defenses, thereby sending the Bullets to the foul line.
Without Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson, the Bullets have become desperate for points any way they can get them. And although their final total in this game was higher than the 88 and 87 they had in Los Angeles and Sacramento -- the first games on this trip -- it wasn't nearly enough to compensate for the game-high 29 points scored by the Suns' Larry Nance. The high-flying forward also had 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Charles Jones, who entered the game with a scoring average of three points, led Washington tonight with 17, which of course is just another sign of the hard times afflicting the Bullets.
His play was one of the few bright spots of the evening for the visitors, as was Bol, who set a Coliseum record by blocking 10 shots. He had seven rebounds and even got his first NBA technical foul.
The momentous occasion came at the 10:20 mark of the second quarter and was called by official Ed Rush.
"I was getting hit in the mouth a lot by (Phoenix center James) Edwards," Bol said. "He kept doing it and doing it, so I told the ref about it. "He told me to shut up. I said 'I'm just telling you what's going on,' and he gave me the technical."
The center then leaned back in his locker room chair and placed his tongue firmly in his cheek. "There are only two African playing in the NBA, me and Akeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets . I know we're new here, but what do we have to do to play in this league?"
Chances are that Olajuwon, the cornerstone of the 23-12 Rockets, has had a far better time of it than Bol recently. But neither Bol nor any of the other member of the team has allowed his misfortune to drag him down.
"We're putting forth the effort every night; that's the most important thing," said Gus Williams, who scored 13 points tonight, including the first six of the game before Washington dissolved into a 40 percent night (38 of 95) from the field. "There's really no reason to get down on ourselves. We just have to go out every night thinking that, if we do our best, we can come out on top."
Normally in NBA games, each team tries to exploit the other's weaknesses. Tonight, for example, the Bullets might have exploited the inexperience of the Phoenix back court of Bernard Thompson and Jay Humphries, both second-year pros.
However, after Williams and his partner Jeff Malone (14 points) got off to a quick start, it was the youngsters who helped Nance control the game. Thompson scored 16 points, Humphries 11.
"We're having a tough time getting into trying to exploit other teams anyway," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "I know what to do and how to do it but right now we're just not capable of it."
After trailing by as many as 15 points in the game, Washington managed to cut the deficit to 97-89 with 5:04 to play after Freeman Williams connected on a three-point field goal.
Shortly after the Suns inbounded the ball, it was stolen near the sidelines by the Bullets' Dudley Bradley.
Virtually isolated on the floor, the guard quickly put up another three-point attempt, but this one missed badly. Less than a minute later, Nance dunked over Bol to cement the win for the Suns.
"Dudley made a great steal but what we needed in that position was a good shot," said Shue. "We call a lot of three-point shots by design, but that time of the game is really a must-score situation."
It didn't need to be said that right now, any points, coming at any time, is what amounts to a must-score situation and should be heartily welcomed by the Bullets.