The Washington Bullets started their seven-game stretch on the road on an upbeat note Tuesday night with a victory in Portland, but there was growing concern over Jeff Ruland's nagging ankle injury.
Although the Bullets were delighted with their 124-116 victory over the Trail Blazers, there doesn't seem to be any indication when the pain in Ruland's right ankle will subside and allow him to return to the court.
"Is it a day-to-day thing or something else? That's a good question that I can't answer right now," Ruland said after the Bullets ended a five-game losing streak with a convincing victory at Portland's Memorial Coliseum, one of the toughest arenas in the NBA. "I'm doing everything the doctors have told me to do, but there's pain in one particular spot and it just hasn't gone away."
Team physician Carl MacCartee would not comment on Ruland's injury.
And so the entire season is on the verge of becoming one big pain to Ruland, who missed 22 games after fracturing the ankle Dec. 11 in Detroit. The veteran played in a two games before reinjuring the foot Feb. 1 -- again in Detroit against the Pistons.
Ruland has not played since and said even cortisone treatments have not eased the pain. The Bullets will play Golden State Thursday night in Oakland and Ruland's status is questionable, at best.
Without Ruland, the Bullets have usually suffered from a lack of inside scoring, which in turn has affected their ability to score from the outside.
That wasn't the case against Portland, however, as Washington hit 57 percent of its field goal attempts, 11 percentage points better than its season norm and the first time in six games it converted more than half of its shots.
Leading the way were guard Jeff Malone, who scored a career-high 43 points, and forward Cliff Robinson, who had 26. Yet Bullets Coach Gene Shue said it was defense that won the game.
"With all of the players we have out, the only real way for us to win is with defense," he said. "We got a little loose in the fourth quarter after we had taken control of the game, but we played a strong defensive game, holding them to 78 points through three quarters."
Defense was particularly important in this game because the hosts started a back court of Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler, who normally share the off-guard spot. Neither man is a great ballhandler, and Washington was able to inhibit their progress up and down the floor.
That accomplished, the Bullets funneled the Portland offense into the middle of the lane, otherwise known as Manute Bol territory. Although Bol was credited with blocking only five shots -- three within a span of about 30 seconds -- he forced many more misses.
Controlling the backboards for the most part, the Bullets' overall defense then generated something that had been almost unseen in recent games, a fast break that led to many open shots and to results that even Shue had to admit were impressive.
"The offense was outstanding," Shue said. "Recently, we've held teams to 78 points over three quarters and been down 10, 12 or even 15 points."