Ledell Eackles, who has been ineffective since ending his holdout, missed practice with the Washington Bullets yesterday. His absence from practice at Bowie State left Coach Wes Unseld perplexed.

"I don't know why he wasn't there," Unseld said.

Did that mean Unseld had not talked to Eackles?

"I talked to him and I still don't know why he wasn't there."

Will Eackles play tonight, when the Houston Rockets visit Capital Centre?

"I don't know that either."

Eackles did not return phone calls to his residence in College Park. His back was sore enough to keep him out of Tuesday's game at Denver and it's still hurting. Regardless, it is apparent that Unseld has heard enough excuses from the holdout guard who signed a two-year, $1.4 million contract after missing training camp and the first two weeks of the season.

In seven games, Eackles has averaged 7.7 points, but he has mediocre field goal (.404) and free throw (.444) shooting percentages. He left the game in Utah Dec. 3 after three minutes with a sprained ankle and sat out the following game at Golden State. He played the next two games before the back problem cropped up.

It is not hard to figure out why the Bullets rank near the bottom of the NBA, with only six victories in 20 games. Plain and simple, they have trouble putting the ball through the hoop -- from anywhere.

The Bullets rank 24th among the 27 teams in field goal percentage (.449), are dead last in three-point attempts (.146) and share last place with the Los Angeles Clippers in free throw percentage (.686).

"We're not a good shooting team," Unseld said. "That's why we play the style we do -- up tempo -- because we don't have a low post game right now."

They had counted on Eackles to shore up their shooting and scoring.

If the Bullets' principal problem is obvious, their performance pattern is harder to understand. They invariably play up or down, depending on the quality of the opposition.

Four of their six victories have been against teams with winning records, including NBA champion Detroit. Conversely, they have lost twice to Sacramento, which has only one other victory. In their last start, the Bullets were beaten by an awful Denver team.

"There are a lot of things that figure into it and I don't have the answer," Unseld said. "But I do know, for us to beat anybody, we have to get everybody working out there."

Unseld is hoping, though, that the pattern will continue for one more night. The Rockets, the third-place team in the Midwest Division with a 12-9 record, come here after celebrating their first victory in Philadelphia in almost 17 years.

That might induce a letdown of sorts, but the Bullets do not look like a team that is in much of a position to take advantage.

The first game back after a long road trip is usually a downer, because of the distractions players encounter at home. In this case, all of the Bullets' distractions are not family oriented.

Besides the Eackles situation, two players who did show up for yesterday's practice, forward Harvey Grant and center Greg Foster, were sent home because they were suffering from the flu.

"We're playing a good team" tonight, Unseld said. "No matter what the situation, if we don't play our best, this team won't beat us; they'll embarrass us."