The New Jersey Nets and Washington Bullets, who close out the first half of the NBA season at the Capital Centre tonight, are trying to improve their present standing and outlook for the next TTC three months.
Both teams appear long shots to make the playoffs, but Nets coach Bill Fitch and the Bullets' Wes Unseld have taken different approaches to end the downward spiral.
Fitch seemingly escaped an early dismissal when New Jersey won 12 of 15 games in January, but rumors resurfaced after the Nets began February with five straight road losses.
Nevertheless, Fitch has resolved to rebuild the Nets his way, rejecting pleas of several owners and fans to play heralded rookie guard Kenny Anderson more.
Fitch has stuck with the veteran starting five of forwards Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris, center Sam Bowie and guards Mookie Blaylock and Drazen Petrovic.
Despite minor injuries, Bowie is putting up consistent numbers, averaging 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and just less than two blocks a game.
Petrovic, acquired from Portland to provide instant offense, leads the Nets in scoring with a 19.9 average and is shooting 44 percent from three-point range. And Blaylock has proved more than adequate as the team floor leader, averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 assists, and 2.7 assists.
"Success breeds confidence," said Fitch, "and Mookie has a lot of confidence in himself right now. He's more of a take-charge guy.
"But the thing that people overlook about Mookie is his defense. There aren't many guards in the league as good as he is defensively."
Meanwhile, Unseld is seeking a cure for his Bullets (15-30), who have lost 12 of their past 15 games. After a fast start in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday night, they appeared to hit a wall before the lowly Hornets (13-33) overwhelmed them, 118-100.
"I don't know why, but we looked awfully tired," said Unseld.
Unlike Fitch, Unseld frequently has altered his starting lineup, looking for a sign of life, but says he has almost run out of options. His latest experiment enjoyed mixed success.
Tom Hammonds, replacing fatigued rookie Larry Stewart at power forward, has averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 rebounds the past five games.
But rookie guard LaBradford Smith, who missed all of training camp and the first two months of the season with an ankle sprain, has struggled offensively.
"Sure, we'd like to improve the team immediately," Unseld said, "but so far we've only been offered one-sided deals by teams trying to take advantage of our situation. And I'm not going to mortgage the future for a quick fix."