"We can't keep saying it -- we have to find a solution quick. We have to keep saying it, though; it's the truth. We keep going this route we'll wind up in the cellar, not making the playoffs, and that's not our goal. We can turn it around and eventually we will, but how long is that? I think we're in a deep hole now."

The speaker on this occasion, following the Washington Bullets' 115-99 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics Saturday night at Capital Centre, was guard Jeff Malone. But it's almost gotten to the point where the names can be interchanged. Kevin Loughery? Moses Malone? Bob Ferry? Abe Pollin? Everyone in the organization is having difficulty trying to grasp the team's 4-11 start to this NBA season.

The most important name, of course, is owner Pollin, who sits across the floor from the Washington bench. "He's been watching the last two games, I'm sure he's concerned," Loughery said. "I'd be concerned -- we all have to be concerned."

After ending a five-game losing streak with victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons, many of the Bullets players felt they'd turned the corner. What they've found there, however, have been three straight defeats and a massive wall that seems to get bigger with each missed shot, the bricks that translate into cornerstones behind Washington's maladies.

"There may be pressure on our three scorers {the Malones and Bernard King}, but that's almost what you want," Loughery said yesterday. "We just haven't jelled, though. I know it's early but it's not that early."

Saturday night, Loughery went back in time, starting a front line of Moses Malone, Charles Jones and Terry Catledge, the trio who opened the bulk of the Bullets' games last year. King was reassigned to relief duty. The move came close to paying off, but an 82-76 third-quarter lead evaporated when the Bullets could muster just two baskets in the opening 10 minutes of the final period.

"You have to be disappointed," Loughery said. "We'd met with the players {during a team meeting on Friday} and were in a game that we felt we had to win. It was there but we didn't get it."

After the game, Loughery and his assistant coaches, Bill Blair and Wes Unseld, held their customary meeting with Ferry, the Bullets' general manager. The men talked for at least an hour.

"We haven't determined if we're just not good enough yet," Loughery said. "But if you go too far like this, your team confidence goes to whack. We don't have a lot of that now. The fans react to that and I don't blame them."

The chief concern is the lack of scoring and rebounding. In their 15 games, only twice have the Bullets hit a higher percentage of their shots from the field than their opponents, and one of those instances was Thursday's 102-94 loss to Atlanta in which Washington only outshot the Hawks by 42 percent to 41.

The Bullets have had at least as many rebounds as the opposition five times but their rate of getting possible defensive rebounds is one of the worst in the NBA, and so is their percentage of offensive rebounds obtained.

"We felt rebounding would be a problem, but not to this degree," Loughery said. "I can't remember 10 clear rebounds -- where the player just went up and snatched the ball down -- in the last seven games.

"That's causing dramatic problems. We've got to assume the shooting's going to get better. We've played enough to make you worry but it'll get better. We can't keep shooting 41 percent every night."

Many players talk about the team being a step out of sync but can't exactly determine why. The fact that each night there has been at least one uneven performance is also problematic because it leads to switches like Saturday's lineup change, which only fosters more uncertainty about who is supposed to do what and when.

"We've been trying lots of combinations but no one has really clicked," said Loughery. "We haven't had consistent play from one position, and so the changes that you make during the course of the game affect the players' minutes."