PONTIAC, MICH., DEC. 11 -- If it's an NBA team's goal to improve upon the previous season, particularly the postseason, perhaps there's hope for the Washington Bullets, even after a 114-108 loss to the Detroit Pistons tonight at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The defeat dropped the Bullets' record to 5-13 heading into a Saturday night contest against the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands. Detroit, winner of five consecutive games, improved to 12-5.
The last time the Bullets ventured onto this floor, they fell behind two games to none in the first playoff round. In the second game of the series, the Bullets trailed by an NBA-record 43 points at halftime en route to a 128-85 loss.
Things weren't nearly as bleak in this game. Getting a strong effort from its starting unit, particularly forward Terry Catledge (26 points, eight rebounds) and center Moses Malone (22 points, eight rebounds), Washington weathered most of the Pistons' flurries with retaliatory offensive runs.
Down, 57-56, at halftime, Washington lapsed into porous interior defense and fell behind by 15 points, 84-69, late in the third period. The Pistons shot 67 percent from the field in the quarter; of their first 11 baskets, 10 were layups or drives to the basket. Even so, behind Malone and Catledge, Washington drew within 89-79 at quarter's end.
In the opening 30 seconds of the final period, Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery was ejected by referee Joey Crawford after being whistled for a single technical foul by Crawford's partner, Terry Durham.
Crawford said later an official can toss a player or a coach at his discretion -- even after a single technical. In this case, it was because "I was tired of listening to him," he said. Loughery, who appeared as if he was going after Crawford a couple of times before leaving the floor following his ejection, read more into it than that.
"That's the second game in a row that we've had him and he's cursed at me," Loughery said. "I'm not about to take that, no matter what his powers are. I figured if he was going to curse me I'd get a free one. Mine cost me $350, his doesn't cost him anything."
Detroit center Bill Laimbeer hit the free throw and eight seconds later forward Adrian Dantley (29 points) scored on a driving layup over Manute Bol to make the score 92-79. Instead of totally falling apart, however, Washington came together under the direction of assistant coach Bill Blair.
With John Williams, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, leading the way, the visitors went on a 16-6 run to cut the gap to 98-95 with 7:55 remaining.
"They're a pretty good team," said Dantley, who was honored before the game for his recent 20,000th NBA point. "When you put Manute in there and they get to pressing, that kind of messes your offense up."
At this juncture, the Bullets messed up with turnovers their next two possessions before a drive by Williams made it 98-97. On the subsequent series, former Bullet Rick Mahorn grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked it over Catledge, who was called for a foul.
Mahorn's free throw made the score 101-97 with 5:10 left, but it wasn't the last time he was heard from. Washington drew within one again, 103-102, but a jumper by Joe Dumars (22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) soon increased Detroit's lead to five. Next, guard Jeff Malone took Dumars to the basket, but was called for an offensive foul.
"I thought it was a tough call going down the stretch," Malone said. "I made my move and he just fell back. It wasn't as if I took two or three dribbles and knocked him down."
The Pistons took advantage of the call when Laimbeer made a jumper. Dumars scored to increase the lead to 109-102 before Tyrone Bogues scored on a jumper for the Bullets. From that point, Washington only met with frustration.
With about two minutes left, Detroit's Isiah Thomas missed a jumper but Mahorn rebounded. After the Pistons ran off more time, Laimbeer missed, but before a Bullet could retrieve the ball, Mahorn rushed over and slammed it off Catledge's leg and out of bounds. Given a third chance, Laimbeer scored.
"It was anybody's game but those rebounds hurt us severely," said Blair. "That charging call against Jeff hurt, too. If they don't call that there, we've really got a chance."
Little-used Darryl Dawkins was placed on the Pistons' suspended list for personal and physical conditioning problems. The club said Dawkins missed morning practice after calling to say he needed time to straighten some matters out.