After a 107-91 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, Bullets forward Cliff Robinson sat dejectedly in the locker room, pondering a third straight loss and wondering why Washington's newly found fast break suddenly had vanished.
The knowledge that the losses had come at the hands of three of the better teams in the NBA -- Boston, Houston and Atlanta -- eased his mind somewhat but didn't stop Robinson from whispering, "These next two games are real important."
At the conclusion of the second, a 135-129 victory over the Hawks Friday night at Capital Centre, Robinson and his teammates were smiling again, and Coach Kevin Loughery was toying with the notion of staying with a three-guard rotation.
In the last two games, Loughery went with the three-guard offense of Dudley Bradley, Gus Williams and Jeff Malone, and did not play either Leon Wood or Kevin McKenna. Williams, who was averaging 29 minutes a game at the start of the week, played for 39 in a victory over the New Jersey Nets and 46 of 48 against Atlanta.
"The situation that I think I'm seeing is that the longer Gus plays the more effective he is," said Loughery. "I might stick with the three-guard thing. I'll probably decide today .
"When I came in, I was searching, seeing what a lot of different people could do in different situations. Now, I've been playing just eight or nine men and they've been playing well. I want to see the other people but I want to win some games, too."
The victory over the Hawks and a 120-108 win over the Nets the night before has given the Bullets some renewed hope for success in the playoffs.
The fast break, ball movement and team defense were very much in evidence in the two victories. And the impetus came from veteran players like Dan Roundfield and Williams, who, along with forward Tom McMillen, are the only players on the roster who have been a part of teams that have gotten past the first round in a playoff series.
Roundfield scored 47 points and had 22 rebounds in the two games, and Williams, the point guard, scored 57 and had 23 assists. In doing so, they raised the team to a performance level and to an emotional state found on some of the league's elite teams. The Bullets seemed to play with purpose, making things happen instead of waiting for trouble.
That has been a shortcoming of the Bullets in recent years, a kind of complacency that Loughery, who has been with the team for a little more than two weeks, said he noticed even watching films.
Williams, now in his element with an open-court, up-tempo game, provided some dazzling baskets and passes Friday night. And Roundfield had a pair of slam-dunks in traffic against the Hawks, which also served to lift the Bullets' spirits.
"Gus is such a key player for us," said Loughery.
"Putting together back-to-back strong games like he did is really important and impressive. And what Dan has done is just a tribute to his desire and abilities."
Still, the Bullets know they must improve in several areas. Although Washington outrebounded the Hawks, 47-45, Friday, Loughery still is concerned about the team's work on the backboards, listing that as the No. 1 priority in its preparations for the playoffs. A close second is the team's shooting from the perimeter.
"It's not easy," the coach said, "but if we hold on rebounding-wise and hit 50 percent of our shots, we're going to win our share of games."