A sizable contingent from the Washington Bullets had hoped to make a quick trip to the nearby Forum today to watch a matinee game between two of the NBA's glamor teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Those players had counted on today's practice -- in preparation for Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers -- being canceled.
To get that practice canceled, they also had counted on winning the first three games of their five-game swing west. However, a 112-106 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics on Saturday, preceded by a 109-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors two nights earlier, made those hopes so much California dreaming. Ironically, what might have seemed unfathomable at the start of the trip -- traveling 3,000 miles away from home, yet winning three straight games -- could have, even probably should have, been a reality.
Washington is 1-2 on the trip and has lost seven of its last eight games. That can be directly attributed to its poor fourth quarters, which reflect a lack of killer instinct that has frustrated the team and negated some outstanding individual performances.
Jeff Malone scored a career-high 43 points against Portland and followed that with 36-point efforts against the Warriors and SuperSonics. Either he or Boston forward Larry Bird is expected be named the league's player of the week.
"It would be like it didn't even count," Malone said after the loss to Seattle. "It doesn't do much good to have a great week if your team only gets one 'W' out of it."
Forward Darren Daye can relate to that feeling. Although not as prolific as Malone, the forward has been consistently effective on this trip, too, Saturday night tying his career high with 21 points and getting six assists while leading a fast break that has been the Bullets' best since preseason.
"To play so well for three quarters in the last two games but give them up at the end. . . it doesn't matter how well I play," he said. "Not taking anything away from Golden State and Seattle, but if you look at the records, those are games we should have won."
Center Manute Bol and forward Dan Roundfield also have played very well.
Despite these efforts, the team has been unable to pull away from anyone on the scoreboard. Combine that with the fact that very few of the great performances have happened in the last 12 minutes of any game, and the Bullets -- prone to turnovers in the late going -- have been ripe for overtaking.
"We get a couple of turnovers and the crowd gets behind the other team," Malone said.
"More importantly, they've been scoring after we lose the ball. Knowing how to win down the stretch, that's how you become a good team. It's just our fault; it's not like the other teams are really hurting us."
Against Seattle, the Bullets were clinging to a 94-93 lead with 8:15 to play when Leon Wood was called for an offensive foul beneath the SuperSonics' basket.
Five seconds later, guard Gerald Henderson's jump shot gave Seattle the lead. Fifteen seconds after that, Henderson stole a pass from Wood, which directly led to a basket by Xavier McDaniel.
With 5:04 remaining and the Bullets trailing, 101-96, they were called for a 24-second violation. Once again Seattle capitalized, Jack Sikma scoring 14 seconds later to put the game out of reach.
"Malone has been superhuman," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said, "and Darren has played terrific. That's why he's been out there so much, but things have to balance out by the end of a game.
"Malone shouldn't have to carry this team and get 40 points a night; there's only so much he can give by the end of a game."
"I don't know where else we're going to get scoring from, though. Unfortunately, we seem to be a one-man offense right now."