In reviewing his team's lost weekend against the expansion Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic to start the new season, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld didn't blame his rookies or younger players for letting two winnable games slip away.
"Right now, I'm willing to live with the good or the bad and the likelihood of mistakes by our young guys," Unseld said after the Bullets blew an eight-point lead in the closing minutes and lost to the Magic, 103-98, in their home opener Saturday night. The Bullets lost Friday night in Charlotte, 126-119. "It's not the young guys I'm worried about."
Unseld likely was sending a message to his veterans that he expects them to carry the load while newcomers such as Tom Gugliotta, Brent Price and Don MacLean suffer through the usual NBA growing pains.
Center Pervis Ellison, regarded as the cornerstone of the youthful Bullets, had a particularly tough time. He got in early foul trouble in both games, limiting his first-half action.
Against the Magic and 7-foot-1 rookie center Shaquille O'Neal, Ellison seemed tentative in attacking the basket. He did not score in the first half, but regrouped in the second half to finish with eight points and nine rebounds.
One of the apparent problems Saturday was the lack of movement in the Bullets' motion offense, which ordinarily features repeated picks and constant cutting without the ball.
In scoring only 48 points in the first half against Orlando, Washington displayed little or no ball movement, resulting in forced shots and costly turnovers.
One of the positive aspects of the Bullets' preseason was having five starters who could make open shots, with Price and MacLean in relief. But point guard Michael Adams said this asset has to be used properly.
"It's nice to have a lot of shooters," said the point guard, who scored a
team-high 19 but had only four assists against the Magic. "But, to make our offense work, we also need guys to set picks. We can't have everyone looking for his shot."
Gugliotta, a lottery pick from North Carolina State, made an impressive pro debut, with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists against the Hornets.
But he never got started against the Magic, picking up early fouls and finishing with one field goal and four points to go with nine rebounds.
Price rebounded from his opening-night jitters in Charlotte to make four of seven shots and contribute three assists in his 17-minute Capital Centre debut, and MacLean had nine points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
The biggest plus has come from shooting guards Rex Chapman and LaBradford Smith, who have combined for 69 points. This was a trouble spot last season, with defensive-minded David Wingate playing most of the minutes.
Smith, bothered by physical problems as a rookie, is playing with confidence. A first-round draft pick from Louisville, he has made 12 of 19 shots and added seven assists in relief of Chapman, who provides the Bullets with their best outside threat since Jeff Malone departed two years ago.
But no one was ready to step forward in crunch time against the Hornets, when Charlotte reserve guard Chris Corchiani penetrated the defense at will.
It added up to a second frustrating loss, and the Bullets face the Cleveland Cavaliers and Magic on the road before returning home Friday against the New York Knicks, favorites in the Atlantic Division.
"It's still real early, and we have to keep plugging away," said Adams, "but we've got to start winning soon or we're going to dig an awfully big hole for ourselves."
NOTES: Unseld is experimenting with different combinations, using his 12-man roster and force-feeding the rookies. The player who has suffered most in the rotation is F Larry Stewart of Coppin State, who made the second All-Rookie team last year. A starter most of last season, Stewart was limited to 16 minutes in the first two games.