LOS ANGELES, NOV. 26 -- Usually, a win against the Los Angeles Clippers is nothing much to shout about. However, the Washington Bullets' 101-96 victory here Wednesday in the final game of a four-game road trip was unique for a number of reasons.
First, it ended a five-game losing streak that had dropped the Bullets' record to 2-8, the NBA's second-worst mark. Washington's poor start also fostered whispers about Coach Kevin Loughery's job security.
"I wasn't thinking of that at all," Loughery said following the game, in which he pulled his entire starting five off the floor less than five minutes after the opening tap. "I'd made my mind up before the game that if they weren't playing well, I'd pull them. I didn't tell them that before the game -- I didn't want to put a negative thought into their minds -- but they knew it was coming when it happened. You have to go with what feels right; if we're going to shoot 40 percent, then we can do it with people who play defense and can trap."
The Bullets, who play the Detroit Pistons Saturday night at Capital Centre, started Wednesday's game as if they were trying to match the first three games of their trip west. They lost those games to Portland, Seattle and Utah by an average of 19 points. With 7:43 remaining in the first quarter Wednesday, Washington trailed, 14-4. Loughery called a timeout and replaced center Moses Malone, forwards Charles Jones and Bernard King and guards Jeff Malone and Tyrone Bogues with Manute Bol, John Williams, Mark Alarie, Frank Johnson and Darrell Walker.
"I guess I was a little surprised when he did it, but then this whole trip has been surprising," said Johnson. "I never expected us to get beat the way we did in the first three games."
Given those defeats, Jeff Malone realized that Loughery wouldn't wait long to change his lineup.
"The timeout before that he said that we had a minute to show him something and we didn't do it," Malone said. "The first unit has stunk. I don't want to get benched but it was no one's fault but our own -- we have to go out and play."
In the remainder of the quarter, Johnson scored nine points and Bol seven. The substitutes' trapping, aggressive defense rattled the Clippers, much to the delight of Loughery, who continued to flash his temper. After Bol blocked a shot with just 12 seconds to play in the period, Loughery stormed the scorer's table, protesting that the 24-second clock should have expired.
He was met there by Los Angeles Coach Gene Shue, Loughery's predecessor in Washington. Although referee Ed Rush was standing between the two, that didn't stop them from exchanging heated words.
"Kevin was there and I was there and he was saying that the ball didn't hit the rim," said Shue. "I said the ball hit the rim -- everybody saw the ball hit the rim. I said something to him and he said something to me and then we both were yelling."
The Bullets trailed, 51-44, at halftime, their last two points on two free throws by Moses Malone. The foul shots turned out to be the all-star center's only points of the game. That statistic would have seemed to eliminate any chance for a Bullets' win. However, they rallied late in the third quarter to take a 69-68 lead, their first advantage of the game. The Clippers regained the lead 74-69.
"But we were still playing aggressively," Johnson said. "That helped keep things consistent for us for the whole game. Usually we'd go into a funk and that's always hurt us."
It also helped that Loughery was able to blend his starters and reserves. Keeping Johnson, Bol and Williams on the floor with King and Jeff Malone, Washington ran off a 16-4 spurt to take a 91-84 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the game when the defense forced four turnovers in little more than two minutes.
On Tuesday, the Clippers won a double-overtime game against the Golden State Warriors by hitting a flurry of three-point field goals late in the game and it seemed like they were about to duplicate the feat when guard Mike Woodson hit a long shot with 3:09 to play, cutting the Bullets' lead to 93-89.
King was called for an offensive foul on the subsequent possession and rookie forward Joe Wolf scored to bring the Clippers to within 93-91. Then, Jeff Malone hit a tough shot in traffic. But rookie swingman Reggie Williams, the former Georgetown star, answered with a short shot.
King made two free throws, but following a timeout by Los Angeles, Clippers guard Larry Drew hit another three-pointer, making it 97-96 with 1:13 left. Again, the Bullets struggled to get off a shot, but Jeff Malone bailed them out, with a 15-foot jumper. Malone ended the scoring with another basket.