By the end of the first quarter of tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Mecca, the Washington Bullets were forced to endure the ultimate in fan indignity -- a chant of "Pizza! Pizza!"
That was in response to a Milwaukee promotion in which everyone in attendance wins a pie if the opposition is held under 95 points. Early in the game, it became obvious that many in the crowd of 11,052 would be well-fed; the Bullets could offer little resistance to the Bucks and were humbled, 116-87. It was Washington's fourth straight defeat.
The Bullets were steadily engulfed by what seemed to be a never-ending stream of Milwaukee points. Former Bullet Charles Davis led the way with 26 points, and six other Bucks players scored at least 10 points. Washington, 32-37 on the season, was paced by forward Cliff Robinson, who scored 29.
"They just played very well and very smart," said Washington Coach Gene Shue of the Bucks, the first-place team in the NBA Central Division with a record of 47-22. "Hopefully, we've bottomed out and things will start to get better."
If the Bullets are engaged in some sort of push for positive playoff positioning, they're doing it in a somewhat odd fashion. On Monday, the fourth-place Bullets lost to the third-place New Jersey Nets by 28 points -- one fewer than tonight. On the horizon are games against Philadelphia, Boston and Houston. That doesn't bode well for the Bullets; their record this season against the clubs they'll face for the remainder of March is 4-15.
Should the current standings hold, Washington will meet Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs. That doesn't thrill Bucks Coach Don Nelson, despite the 4-2 edge his team has over the Bullets this season.
"Against them, all 12 players must be ready to play defense for the full 24 seconds for the entire 48-minute game," he said.
More than any other series this season, the games between Milwaukee and Washington have been distinct because of the adjustments made by each team in each game. In the meeting before tonight's, the Bullets prevailed, 125-104, by beating the Bucks' constant double-teaming of the basketball. When the team trapped, the Bullets merely whipped the ball around the perimeter to an open man.
One could tell that things would be different tonight. One thing hadn't changed: Milwaukee's ability to almost immediately recognize the Washington plays and move into a favorable defensive posture. But, when they got there, it was almost entirely man-on-man, with little movement toward a double team.
Then again, there was very little need to. Washington shot 46 percent from the field, with Robinson and guard Leon Wood the only players with more than two shots to hit half of their attempts.
"Our defense has really picked up in the last few games," said guard Sidney Moncrief. "We're also moving the ball well on offense."
That could have been considered an understatement. For the game, the Milwaukee bench outscored Washington's by 64-28, but the shots that Davis was getting were identical to the ones that Cummings had, or Randy Breuer, or Paul Pressey. That is, most of the team's field goal attempts came from about 10 feet out.
Many of them came in the decisive second quarter. Milwaukee entered the period ahead by 26-17. By intermission, the margin was 58-39 and steadily rising.
Davis, who also had 10 rebounds and five assists on the night, scored 10 of his points in the second period.
"Since I played with the Bullets for a few years I always want to do well against them," he said. "I'm happy to be with the Bucks. It's nice to know that the coaching staff has confidence in me."
The rest of the Bucks are also confident, although they refuse to believe that tonight's victory will have any lingering effect on the upcoming playoffs.
"The big margin tonight won't mean a thing if we face the Bullets," said Moncrief. "How you do against a team in the regular season isn't necessarily indicative of how you'll do against that team in the playoffs."