How one views the Washington Bullets' 112-105 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at the Spectrum depends on perspective.
For the first time in nine days the Bullets avoided double-digit defeat. On the other hand, the debut of Coach Kevin Loughery, after the dismissal of Gene Shue on Wednesday, wasn't enough to stop them from coming out on the short end of the score for the fifth consecutive game.
From that vantage point, it appeared that things had remained the same, but listening to the players gave one a different impression.
"There was a lot of indecision on offense because we weren't always sure what Kevin wanted to do, but as far as the overall speed of the game it was great," said guard Gus Williams. "We found out some good things. Every one played more relaxed. Things can only get better."
Cliff Robinson, who scored a team-high 22 points, agreed. "We ran a lot more, we spread the court out more," he said. "That felt different, even just running up and down the floor so much felt different. Sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath."
Center-forward Jeff Ruland, back in action after 13 games, was optimistic, too. The first player off Washington's bench, he had six points and two rebounds in 21 minutes.
"It felt all right," he said about his strained left knee. "My lateral movement was okay. I don't think I'm going to have any problems. There was a little soreness Thursday after practice but it went away right away."
It's hard to say if it was pure talent or the adrenaline of the last 48 hours that carried the Bullets most of the game. They scored first and led until late in the third quarter, when Julius Erving's basket began an 8-2 spurt that put the 76ers ahead, 76-70.
It appeared that the Bullets had hit the wall, but they came back to regain the lead by the end of the period, 81-79, on Leon Wood's layup.
But that was the Bullets' last real spurt. In the first 4:40 of the fourth quarter, they were outscored, 17-6, and fell behind, 96-87. From there, they got no closer than three points, that with 35 seconds to play.
Although he only scored three points in that decisive stretch, it was the perspective of Philadelphia forward Charles Barkley that was largest this night. A second-year pro, he was the dominant factor in the game, scoring 27 points, getting 18 rebounds, passing off for three assists and blocking three shots.
Such performances have become the norm for him. His effort tonight was the 46th time he has gotten double figures in points and rebounds this season and the 15th time he has had at least 15 rebounds.
Because of that consistency, there was nothing unusual about this game for him, just another night of acrobatics and thunderous dunks.
"They really didn't look any different to me," Barkley said. "I still have to go out and play my game anyway. I don't even notice that they have a new coach. They still have a good front line."
"I thought we played very well considering," Loughery said. "There were some areas in which we made mistakes because of unfamiliarity. At times we were making up plays in the huddle. In all honesty, it's going to be very difficult. There's no time to practice or work on things. Hopefully we'll get things narrowed down to where we're comfortable with each other. The biggest thing now is for the players to be aggressive."
The Bullets, who typically flounder in the battle for rebounds against Philadelphia, were outrebounded only 42-38. Another positive was the fact that even with the mass unfamiliarity, Washington more than kept pace with the 76ers.
"Kevin would draw some plays in the huddle but there wasn't time to go through all kinds of options," said Robinson. "A lot of times things broke down and we had to make do. We were playing instinctively and we did it well. For the first time, I'd say it was pretty good."