Breathing in the rarefied air that comes with winning, the Washington Bullets will attempt to improve their record to 2-3 when they face the New Jersey Nets tonight at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford.
If a 2-3 record doesn't sound like great shakes, put yourself in the place of the Nets, 0-3 this season, or the New York Knicks, who dropped to 0-5 with the Bullets' 108-101 victory Friday night at Capital Centre.
That might have been one of the ugliest games in NBA history, filled as it was with fouls, turnovers and free throws. How many free throws? The Bullets broke a 38-year-old league record by making 60 of their 69 attempts from the foul line. That 87 percent accuracy contrasted with 35 percent field goal shooting by the Bullets, a season low.
"I don't care, we'll take it," said John Williams, one of the many Bullets to step forward in the game. Starting in place of Terry Catledge, whose jammed neck makes him doubtful for tonight as well, Williams contributed eight points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Playing a season-high 20 minutes, reserve forward Mark Alarie got a career-high 11 rebounds, scored 13 points and blocked three shots. Besides Catledge's absence, both efforts took on added importance because starting small forward Bernard King was struggling.
Against his former teammates, King missed his first seven shots from the field. He ended with 14 points but hit only three of 18 shots and committed 10 turnovers.
Since joining Washington at the start of the month and scoring 33 points in his debut in the final exhibition game, the former NBA scoring champion has shown a nice passing touch but his shooting has been uneven. In the Bullets' four games, King has made 20 of 62 shots -- 32 percent.
"I think we're all forgetting we're just four games into the season," Coach Kevin Loughery said. ". . . It's gonna take a while for him to really get his timing. He's playing in an entirely new system. When he was with the Knicks, the whole game was geared towards him.
"Bernard's not used to being the guy to come to the middle of the court when teams are pressing us. We don't have the familiarity with each other yet. Guys aren't sure what to do and they're having to do things that they've never had to do before."
For Alarie, part of the novelty is actually having to run plays in a set offense. He is coming off a rookie season with the Denver Nuggets, notorious for their lack of offensive sets.
"Our set plays were determined in the huddle just before we ran them; it wasn't like we worked on them in practice or anything," he said. "Even when I was at Duke, we didn't run set plays often, it was more a motion offense."
Alarie, with guard Darrell Walker, joined the Bullets three days before the opener. Since then, he's undergone a crash course in the plays for both the small and power forward spots as well as some of the subtle differences between the two. For example, in Loughery's offense, the small forward always inbounds the basketball, yet Alarie has forgotten a few times, drawing the coach's ire.
"I'm feeling a little more comfortable offensively but I still tend to get ahead of myself," Alarie said. "I'll sprint upcourt instead of waiting to help out, or I'll try to lose my man through picks, which screws up the offense. I have to play mentally alert but not at such a frantic pace."
On Friday, the 6-foot-8 Alarie gave the Bullets an 11-point second quarter, and a needed shot of intensity.