Faced with the dilemma of breaking up his increasingly strong second unit, Washington Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery will not decide on whether to bench slumping point guard Tyrone Bogues until after the team's practice Monday at Bowie State.
Loughery also said yesterday he was uncertain of the status of reserve guard Frank Johnson, who most likely would take Bogues' spot in the starting lineup. Johnson suffered a slight sprain of his right ankle in Saturday's 124-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons. After the game, Johnson said the ankle did not bother him.
Loughery acknowledged he originally had planned to bring Bogues along more slowly than he has.
"We really didn't want to start off the season starting Muggsy Bogues," Loughery said. "Frank Johnson wasn't in condition -- I shouldn't say condition, he wasn't in NBA condition -- to start. Darrell Walker was new to the club. He was in there two days. We put Muggsy in the lineup because he was the one who knew most of our plays."
Bogues continued to struggle Saturday. He played only 10 minutes, three in the second half. In the first half, he committed three turnovers and missed both his shots, open jumpers.
For the season, he is shooting only 37 percent (21 of 56) from the field.
"You're coming in as a rookie and are asked to come in and play that position, it's tough," said Johnson, himself a former first-round pick, in the Bullets' locker room Saturday. "But he's going to be here a long, long time, and I hope I'm just here to see it."
Until Loughery makes a move, though, Johnson is still an integral member of the second unit. Saturday, the reserves used a zone trap to take Detroit out of its offense. Walker (a season-high 20 points) and John Williams (a career-high tying 21) pushed Washington to several transition baskets.
"I'm not trying to make excuses, but I think people forgot we had five people in the last week of training camp, five totally new people," Loughery said Saturday. "And we've been on the road more than any team in the NBA. Forget the games, you don't have time to practice."
In winning their second game in a row, Washington achieved a blend of early firepower (from Jeff Malone, Moses Malone and Bernard King) and late lightning from the substitutes. The regulars played well enough, shooting 49 percent from the field.
But the reserves did most of the second-half damage. "They're a real good defensive unit," Loughery said. "A lot of quickness out there. They were helping one another. I think they have confidence in themselves."
Like last season, Washington has found a second team that presses, gets away with an occasional zone defense and can rely on the last resort of Manute Bol's shotblocking.
Johnson said of Bol, "He makes the right decisions now. He's really developed a sense of court awareness."
Walker, Johnson and Williams not only can alternate at the point, they can also switch to the off-guard spot. And Walker, at 6-4, is much less a defensive liability than last season's floor leader, Michael Adams, who was only 5-8.
Loughery's estimate of Walker's defensive skills manifested itself when he left Walker in the low post several times to guard Detroit's Dennis Rodman, the leaping 6-8 forward for the Pistons.
"Kevin has showed confidence in us, and when we go out there, we try to keep the lead or increase the lead," said Walker. "When you press and trap, they can pass the ball all they want, but they're not going to be in their offensive set. And that's the whole point of the defense, to get them out of their offense."
"It makes us a stronger team," Moses Malone said of the reserves, who were able to give him a lot of the second half off -- he played only 10 minutes. "It gives the other team something to think about."
Johnson, who scored 12 points, emphasized Washington's need to get some points from its transition game.
"We get some easy baskets," he said. "That's the name of the game. You can't expect to get baskets running the half-court offense all the time."
Washington broke open Saturday's game with its transition game. The Bullets had taken a nine-point lead after three quarters, 87-78, when Williams started the final period with a base-line jumper. Walker scored on a transition layin, Johnson hit two free throws, and Mark Alarie, assisted by Walker, hit another fast-break layin. By the time Detroit called time, it was 95-80.
Williams then took charge, scoring the next seven points and, when Walker hit a long-range jumper and free throw for a three-point play, the score stood 105-86. The game was over.
But Walker said it was more important in the long run that the starters got untracked, and for the Bullets to continue their winning ways, they must stay on track.
"The horses are the guys who make the money," he said, "and they know what they have to do."