If it were the NFL instead of the NBA, Coach Kevin Loughery and the Washington Bullets could possibly take a day or so to savor Wednesday night's victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, reality dictates that the Bullets immediately focus upon the Detroit Pistons, whom they'll face tonight at the Pontiac Silverdome.
"It's nice, it's fine and good but we're in a stretch where we're playing four games in five nights so we can't afford to think too much about it," Loughery said of his team's 120-112 overtime victory over Los Angeles. "That game may be something to build upon but we've got to repeat it. If it's only a one-game situation then we haven't really accomplished anything."
With a team that persistently has given wildly inconsistent performances at each position on the floor, Loughery said he's thinking about naming the starting lineup depending upon factors including the opposition, a player's hot hand, etc. In effect, a starting platoon system.
"We may have three spots that are consistent and then alternate the other two, but it might get to the point where certain guys would start against certain teams," Loughery said. "It seems every night we've been dramatically overmatched at a position -- but not always the same one. It's changed from game to game and that's led to a lot of our adjustments."
Against the Lakers, for example, Frank Johnson, who has started the last five games at point guard, played just seven minutes. The bulk of the time at that spot went to rookie Tyrone Bogues, who played 41 minutes and had nine assists.
With Bogues averaging almost six assists in the last four games, Loughery might be tempted to return the 5-foot-3 playmaker to the starting five. However, he's also aware that Johnson has had success against Detroit all-star guard Isiah Thomas. It's likely that Johnson will keep his starting berth for that reason, but that doesn't mean it will be the same story on Saturday, when the Bullets go from Detroit to New Jersey to face the Nets.
Some of the Washington players believe that such juggling will only lead to more uncertainty about roles and further inconsistency in playing time, but Loughery argues that if he indeed goes to such a system it will be because of the spotty nature of his players' performance.
"Looking at the adjustments we've had to make so far," the coach said, "when we take out a scorer to put a defender in, then we're giving up points somewhere on offense, or when we put in a scorer then we're missing some defense."
Obviously, the ideal situation, according to Loughery, would have been for the starters to assume control of games from the beginning of the season. That hasn't happened. For the most part, the Bullets time after time have fallen behind early, regardless of who has been on the court.
Perhaps the biggest reason why that changed against the Lakers on Wednesday was the play of power forward Terry Catledge, whose 19-point, 15-rebound performance hit upon two factors that have bothered Loughery all season.
The first is that, beyond the big three of Moses Malone, Jeff Malone and Bernard King, none of the players has stepped forward to demand extended minutes through his play. The other is the lack of a physical presence in the lineup.
Catledge, who missed seven games this season with back and neck troubles, played his way back into the starting lineup with an aggressive effort against Indiana on Dec. 2. Wednesday, the third-year player didn't back down from Lakers forward A.C. Green, even picking up a technical foul for roughhousing under the boards.
"I wanted to be aggressive on the boards and play defense hard," Catledge said. "That's something we hadn't been doing in the past. Now I hope to play like this every night."
That hope is shared by Loughery, who called Catledge "a big plus for us" and said, "One thing that we and everyone else forgets is that Terry hasn't played much, he's missed a lot of games. But that's the kind of effort we need to get every night."
Loughery added that if he does go to a platoon starting system, it likely won't involve King, who has come off the bench in the last three games.
"I know he doesn't like it, but we're going to keep doing that," Loughery said. "I like it. We have more explosiveness that way."