PHOENIX, FEB. 26 -- On the surface, there wouldn't seem to be much separating the Washington Bullets and Sacramento Kings. Perhaps that's why Kings Coach Bill Russell was so distraught after his team had been handed a 129-110 pasting Thursday night at Arco Arena.

"This was the first time I've been totally embarrassed," said the NBA legend. "We did not give a professional effort. I'm embarrassed. There's nothing else I can say. I'm truly embarrassed."

This from a man who leads a team that's firmly rooted in the cellar of the Midwest Division with a 16-37 record, a team that now has lost five straight games.

Perhaps Russell was actually counting on a win beforehand. The idea wasn't entirely preposterous. Washington (20-32) had lost three straight and seven of eight entering the game and was playing without forward Bernard King, who was in Chicago receiving treatment for a lower back sprain.

Attempts to reach King today at his Chicago hotel were unsuccessful. Coach Wes Unseld said he was unsure about the forward's status for the remaining two games of the team's Western Conference trip.

There is now another injury besides King's to contend with. Guard Frank Johnson hurt his right knee after a hard fall late in the contest against the Kings. The veteran walked gingerly during the trip here from Sacramento and said he was questionable for Saturday's game against Phoenix.

In King's absence on Thursday, with a lineup featuring Charles Jones and John Williams in starting roles and Jeff and Moses Malone each dominating play for lengthy stretches, the Bullets totally controlled the contest. Jeff Malone scored a season-high 35 points, Moses Malone added 27 with 17 rebounds and Washington, which shot 52 percent from the field, never led by fewer than 11 points in the final 37:30 of the game.

"They gave us a lot of help, they didn't come out with a lot of intensity, but we played better than we had been playing," said Jeff Malone, who hit 14 of 19 shots from the field.

"In the other games we'd have one good half and then didn't do a thing in the other, {Thursday} we put two of them together."

In their three consecutive losses, the Bullets had a 43-point fourth quarter against Houston after an indifferent opening half, then collapsed after intermission against both Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Against the Nuggets, Washington had a five-point halftime lead but scored just 37 points in the final two periods. The team trailed the defending NBA champions by just two at halftime but got buried under the Lakers' fast break.

That was one reason why Unseld could empathize with Russell

"I think they're in a situation like us -- the majority of players have to play well for them to do well," he said. "We've blasted them twice {Washington won 130-113 on Jan. 17 at Capital Centre} but we haven't done it to too many others."

Perspective becomes even more important as Washington approaches the final two games of its eight-game western trek. If the team should sweep both the Suns here on Saturday and Golden State on Monday -- two very winnable games -- they'll return to Washington with a 4-4 record.

That's probably all one could expect given the length of time away from home and the fact that in Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Houston, the Bullets were going against teams with the first-, third-, sixth- and seventh-best records in the NBA.

The odds on the Bullets winning here Saturday might have been improved by all the wheeling and dealing done by the Suns on Thursday. In a pair of trades, the Suns sent starting guard Jay Humphries to Milwaukee and starting forward Larry Nance to Cleveland, bringing in Craig Hodges from the Bucks and Kevin Johnson, Mark West and Tyrone Corbin from the Cavaliers.

Ironically, the Cavaliers were in Phoenix for a game on Thursday. Humphries was warming up on the Veteran's Coliseum floor in his Suns' uniform when he was told of the trade. Soon afterward he left the building; the three players from Cleveland watched the Suns' 109-103 victory from the stands.

There was talk that Phoenix, which also sent veteran center James Edwards to Detroit earlier in the week, was having a fire sale and trying to reduce its payroll. That was an idea that had occurred to at least one observer.

"Talent-wise, it doesn't make sense to trade Nance," said Lakers Coach Pat Riley of the former Clemson forward, a steady, sometimes spectacular player who averages more than 21 points per game. "The only other thing I could think of is if it was him -- that he decided that he'd had enough of losing and that he wanted to shake things up for himself."

Meanwhile, Unseld said he'll continue to shake up his lineup at least until King's status is determined.

"I was glad to see that group play pretty well together," he said.

"We'll stay with it at least until Bernard gets back. With John, I have someone who can handle the ball in the open court and help the guards get it up the floor. 'B' {Bernard King} can do that too -- when he gets back I'll have to decide on which way we'll go."