DALLAS, FEB. 16 -- These are the days when the NBA regular season seems interminable. Fifty or so games played; 30 or so left. It's too early to talk about playoff drives, but if teams don't pay attention to the standings, they find themselves four or five games down with a month to go.

And when it's a crippled bunch, as the Washington Bullets are these days, the rest of the league starts to look like a particularly nasty barracuda. The Bullets are reeling from six losses in seven games, which have continually exposed their defensive guard weaknesses without Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman.

The just-completed three games in Texas tell the tale. Opposition starting off-guards averaged 25.3 points and shot 71.7 percent (33 of 46). Starting point guards averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 assists. Guards off the bench scored 43 points in 75 minutes.

And the Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks averaged 117.3 points.

These are dangerous days for the Bullets, suddenly down to ninth in the Eastern Conference as they host 10th-place Cleveland at Baltimore Arena Sunday at 1 p.m. Before the game, they will sign guard Clinton Smith to a second 10-day contract as Workman continues his slow rehabilitation from a strained groin. After this contract expires, the Bullets will have to let Smith go or sign him for the rest of the season.

With the reality that the Bullets will have trouble with good backcourts until they get their guards back, the added danger is that the players will begin to see themselves as losers, a malady sometimes known as New Jersey Nets Syndrome.

"That's my major concern," Coach Wes Unseld said. "You start losing, that's one thing. You start playing like losers and that's a whole different ballgame. That's something you don't want to get into. That can happen."

This was the gist of Unseld's halftime talk Friday night, the Bullets trailing 63-43 and having looked somnolent. They showed some fight then, halving the deficit before fading in the fourth quarter.

"{Unseld} told us we were playing like we were giving up," John Williams said. "He just asked us to go out and compete."

Looking to shake things up going into the game, Unseld started Pervis Ellison at center. The results were mixed. Ellison did score 13 points, take 10 rebounds and block two shots. But his opposite number, James Donaldson, had 13 points, 16 rebounds and generally made life tough for Washington down low.

The Mavericks didn't allow the Bullets to get into their halfcourt sets, and thus effectively took Bernard King out of the game. Dallas pressed full court even though it's one of the more plodding groups in the league. Still, it worked.

"Our defense was to take Bernard out," Mavericks guard Derek Harper said. "Richie {Adubato, the coach} put a lot of emphasis on trying not to let him beat us. He went up to New York and scored 49 points, and we did not want that to happen."

Williams got a good look in the second half, playing most of the third quarter and the last eight minutes of the game. Using him and Ellison together, the Bullets had some inside-outside activity and some easy baskets, something desperately needed.

"Rock brings a lot to the team," Ellison said. "When he's got the ball out on the floor, you need to be cutting to the basket. Because he will find you. I think I got four easy baskets like that. We've played together as a unit every day in practice and when we're out there we really feel comfortable with each other.

"Sometimes when Coach puts two of us in with three starters, it's a different situation. We have to adjust to that. When he puts all five of us out there, we seem to have a little more continuity. . . . He's a passing forward and he can finish, and teams can't just double him every time down the floor."

Because the Knicks and Pacers refuse to take control of the eighth playoff spot, the Bullets are right in the hunt. But they need to get going quickly, for the schedule gets tougher in March and April.

"A win and we can get rolling with what we have," Eackles said. "One big game. This Texas trip wasn't one of our best."

Bullets Notes: Unseld will hold a pregame clinic, 10:30 a.m., for youths 16 and under at Baltimore Arena.