The Washington Bullets will have to become more adept at rebounding in order to recover from the disappointing losses of the weekend, according to Coach Kevin Loughery.

"That just hasn't been consistent and I think it may remain a problem," he said after the Bullets dropped a 114-109 decision to the Houston Rockets Saturday night at Capital Centre. One night earlier, the Bullets were defeated by the Celtics at Boston, 116-97.

In the two games, the Bullets (35-40) were outrebounded by a total of 103-86, leading Loughery to make his first public criticism of the team since he took over for Gene Shue six games ago.

The deficiency on the backboards was especially noticeable against the Rockets. Houston had 18 offensive rebounds and converted them into 20 points. In the final six minutes of the game the Rockets scored four baskets, three of them on second chances.

"Offensive rebounds can happen at any time, but it hurt to have them come at the end of the game," said Washington's Dan Roundfield. "Usually, when you're underneath the basket you screen out the first person you make contact with on the other team, whether he's your man or not. Sometimes you get mixed up. Those were just some tough plays."

For the Bullets, tough is not having Jeff Ruland and his 11 rebounds per game for the rest of the season, but Loughery doesn't want the players to use that as a crutch.

"The people you use instead have to pick up the slack," he said. "Now I'm able to see some of the deficiencies, and rebounding could be a tremendous one. We have some individuals who are capable of rebounding, they just have to work harder at doing it."

Looking at the Bullets' seven remaining games shows the validity of that statement. The best rebounding team in the NBA is the Philadelphia 76ers, who gather in 52 percent of all misses, including 37 percent on the offensive end. In that category, offensive rebounding, Houston ranks second, and fourth are the Atlanta Hawks, Washington's next opponent Tuesday night.

Not too far behind the Hawks as offensive rebounders are the Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets. The Nets are directly in front of Washington in third place in the NBA's Atlantic Division. If the Bullets are unable to pass them, chances are they will open the postseason against the Bucks. If the Bullets do move up a notch, they would draw either the 76ers or Hawks in the first round.

In Ruland's absence, Washington's best rebounders are Cliff Robinson and Roundfield, each of whom averages slightly more than eight a game. Center Manute Bol and forward Charles Jones -- both starters -- add 10 between them. Loughery says more help has to come from the team's guards. Starters Jeff Malone and Gus Williams average less than six rebounds a game between them.

Loughery also expressed disappointment in his team's overall defense over the weekend. Boston and Houston players were able to score with ease, at times converting fast breaks for baskets within 10 seconds of a Washington score.

"We have to become more aggressive with our overall team defense," the coach said. "We can't break down like we do at times. We just have to do a better job there and in rebounding if we expect to win some games down the stretch."