New York Knicks officials, in the midst of a miserable 20-41 season, won't have to worry about how to fill out their highlight film after the Washington Bullets' 119-83 loss Tuesday night. But around Capital Centre, one day after the team's worst defeat this season, the Bullets were editing tapes themselves in an effort to figure out what could have gone so wrong at Madison Square Garden.
"We just want to look at isolated situations, why we had problems with their traps, why we didn't handle them or allowed them to get so many jump shots," said Coach Gene Shue, referring to an abridged version of the game that will be shown to his squad this morning, hours before tonight's rematch against the Knicks at Capital Centre.
Judging from the final score, it should not be difficult to pick out any particular sequence of Washington foibles, particularly in a second half in which the Bullets were outscored by 64-33.
"In a situation like that, there really isn't a difference between 25 or 35 points," Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said. "By the end of the game, all you're doing is letting people who haven't played much try to get in shape. Games like that are going to happen, especially when you're as short-handed as we were. It would have been even more devastating to me to lose by just a point."
He added that, in watching the game, he felt "those weren't the Bullets out there playing," referring to the absence of center Jeff Ruland and guard Jeff Malone, the team's leading scorers. But indeed it did not resemble previous Bullets games this season, because it's been rare that Washington has been involved in a blowout of any sort. Twice the team has won by 21 points; apart from a 30-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in January, the Bullets hadn't been beaten by more than 19 before Tuesday.
For the season, the team averages 101.8 points a game and gives up 103. That yield is one of the best in the NBA, as is the 46 percent field goal shooting to which Washington usually limits the opposition. On Tuesday, both were cut to shreds, mainly because of the Knicks' 68.5 sharpshooting.
"I thought there would be a time when our defense would just take over in the game," said Ferry. "Not too many teams have been able to score as consistently on us as they did."
Both teams shot 73 times from the field, but New York succeeded 21 more times than the Bullets, who trailed only 55-50 at halftime.
"I thought we had a good chance to win then," said Malone, who had a stomach virus and watched the game from his bed in Washington. "But we couldn't get anything going in the second half. We had too many turnovers; we usually kill their press, but they were definitely more aggressive than we were."
Malone's absence left the Bullets with only one consistent scorer: Cliff Robinson. And he was quickly taken out of the game by the Knicks' press, which virtually negated Washington's set offense. When the Bullets were able to set up a play, New York immediately double-teamed Robinson, who shot only nine times, making three and scoring seven points.
Had Malone been able to play, the Knicks probably wouldn't have been able to play as aggressively, knowing that a high-percentage shot was just a pass away.
"Basically, the players who were out there did the best they could," said Shue. "I didn't look at the game as being a total breakdown or collapse on our part. Going into it, I knew that we would have problems scoring. It's easy to say that Ruland's and Malone's scoring would be made up, but that wouldn't be realistic; it would be naive."
Often the Bullets found themselves less concerned with scoring than simply trying to beat the press with a pass, or wondering where the double team would come from. Tom McMillen missed his first three shots from outside and didn't shoot the rest of the evening, although an aggressive shooter was needed. "Tom didn't think he had it going, so he didn't shoot, but turning down shots can be just as bad as missing them," said Shue.
Malone, still feeling woozy, said he won't know until after this morning's shoot-around whether he'll be able to play tonight. Ruland said his injured left knee felt much better and his return is a distinct possibility.
"You can't dwell on who's there or not there or how much you lost the last game by," Shue said. "You look at what you can do to win the next one. You keep moving on."