LANDOVER -- The Washington Bullets got caught looking ahead to playing two critical games in the next five days against the New York Knicks and were scorched by the expansion Miami Heat, 104-90, at the Capital Centre last night.
Given an opportunity to replace the Knicks, who lost at home to the Seattle SuperSonics last night, in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Bullets (22-32) responded with their flattest effort of the season. There were only 7,183 witnesses.
Coach Wes Unseld, who had only 10 healthy bodies available with guards Darrell Walker (knee) and Haywoode Workman (groin) and Mark Alarie (tendinitis) still nursing injuries, had a number of possible excuses but offered no alibis.
"I could say we were looking ahead, that we were injured, and that our guards, A.J. English and Ledell Eackles, were worn down playing more than 40 minutes a night," he said. "But the truth is, we just weren't ready to play."
The Bullets were out-hustled and out-muscled by the Heat (16-36), which won for the fifth time in its past eight games.
Typical of the Bullets' uninspired effort was a 15-point performance by Bernard King, who came into the game as the league's third-leading scorer, averaging 30.3 points.
King's familiar scowl never was in evidence last night. He was even seen smiling twice. The All-Star forward managed to hit only four of 16 field-goal attempts and scored his last basket with more than three minutes left in the first quarter.
"Bernard is such a great player," said Miami coach Ron Rothstein "and he has maintained such a high level of excellence all season, but tonight he showed he was actually human."
King was hardly the only struggling Bullet. Washington shot 43 percent. With the Heat trapping and pressing on defense, the Bullets never got into their offense and took many low-percentage shots.
Pervis Ellison (17 points, 11 rebounds) began attacking the boards and scored seven points to trim the deficit to 77-75 with just under eight minutes remaining.
It would remain close for the next three minutes. Washington trailed, 85-82, after a jump shot by Ledell Eackles, but everything quickly went sour. With Rice swishing jumpers and Douglas penetrating the middle with little resistance, Miami ran off nine straight points for a 96-82 lead with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left.
"They consistently beat us to spots on the floor and we never made adjustments," said Unseld. "We're not shooting the ball well and with the team we had on the floor, it's not easy to run and get easy baskets, especially when Bernard is struggling."
King has been the focal point of the offense for so long, the Bullets seem almost lost when he is not contributing.
"When 'B' doesn't score his usual 20 or 30, we're hurting," said Eackles. "They pushed us out on the floor and we weren't getting into our offense until the shot clock was down to 10-12 seconds."
Forward Harvey Grant was more critical. "We didn't handle their press at all," he said. "We threw the ball away and missed defensive assignments. There wasn't much we didn't do wrong."
Perhaps the only positive sign for Unseld was the news that Workman, who had won the playmaking job, may be cleared to play against the Knicks here tomorrow night. And Walker seems only a week away from being reactivated. The welcome mat is out and waiting.