The Washington Bullets turned back the clock last night for touch of nostalgia, returning to Baltimore and donning the red, white and blue uniforms the original Bullets wore here 29 years ago.
Unfortunately, the current Bullets played as poorly as the 1963-64 team that won only 31 games that season in being humbled by the Minnesota Timberwolves, 102-83, before a near-silent sellout crowd of 12,346 at the Baltimore Arena.
An easy solution would be to burn the uniforms and simply bury the past. But that won't correct what currently ails the out-of-sync Bullets (4-8), who suffered their lowest offensive output of the season in dropping their third straight while allowing the Wolves (3-7) to end a five-game skid.
"Games like this against teams we're supposed to beat will come back to haunt us," said co-captain Harvey Grant, who led the Bullets with 19 points. "A lot of our young players have to mature in a hurry and put their priorities in order and start putting basketball ahead of other things."
Added coach Wes Unseld, who was honored before the game for bringing the franchise respectability in the late '60s: "We were terrible tonight, especially defensively. We were listless, and didn't come out after them like we should have."
Reminded of injuries to his starting backcourt of Michael Adams (groin pull) and Rex Chapman (back spasms), Unseld said, "I hate to use them as excuses. But without those two playing, we had no continuity and no excitement.
"But, quite honestly, we weren't playing that well when everyone was healthy."
Ragged would have been a polite way to describe the Bullets' overall performance. The Wolves capitalized on Washington's makeshift backcourt.
With rookie Doug Overton and customary shooting guard LaBradford Smith forced to run the offense, the Wolves pressured the ball and forced Washington into 21 turnovers.
Meanwhile, Chuck Person (26 points), rookie Christian Laettner (25 points) and shooting guard Doug West (21) took turns carrying the Wolves' offense, stifling any hope of a Bullets comeback.
Person, who seems revitalized since his trade from Indiana, got the Wolves off to a lightning start in the first quarter when he scored 17 points in the first six minutes, most of them on long jumpers.
Once labeled a prima donna interested only in personal statistics, Person has emerged as the leader of the youthful Wolves, pacing the team in scoring and rebounding.
"This was a must win for us," said the veteran forward. "We'd lost five in a row, and that can be very frustrating for a young team.
"Shooting and offense comes and goes, but you have to be consistent defensively, and tonight we were very aggressive in playing them straight up. The talent level on this team is definitely higher than in past years. We just have to trust each other and gel as a team."
By the time Person had finished his initial volley, Minnesota had built a 25-13 advantage and established the flow of the game.
With center Pervis Ellison (17 points, 11 rebounds) back from a five-game hiatus due to a sore knee, joining Grant and rookie forward Tom Gugliotta (15 points), the Bullets managed to pull into ties at 45 and 47. But the Wolves scored the last seven points of the half for a 54-47 cushion and were never headed.
Their only scare came in the third quarter when starting point guard Micheal Williams got hit on the side of his right knee and went down in a heap underneath the Minnesota basket. He was helped to the Wolves locker room and did not return. The injury was first diagnosed as a strain, but X-rays will be required to assess the damage.
But the Wolves maintained their poise with rookie Chris Smith running the show. The former Connecticut star scored nine points in an impressive relief job.
The Bullets had no time to mull over the loss, leaving immediately for Milwaukee and a game tonight against the rejuvenated Bucks and their new head coach, Mike Dunleavy. Adams and Chapman did not make the trip, but there is hope that both guards will return to action for Tuesday night's game at the Capital Centre against the San Antonio Spurs.
NOTES: Ellison said he was pleasantly surprised by his physical condition after not having played since Nov. 15. "I was jumping and running better than expected," he said, "but my knee hurt a bit when I had to move laterally, and that kind of slowed me down defensively when I had to switch assignments." . . . Jim Karvellas, returning as "voice" of the Bullets, received a commemorative plaque before the game. He also was honored in New York Tuesday for broadcasting NBA games for 30 years.
Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
Outlook: This is the first of four meetings with the revamped Bucks, one of the major surprises of the early season. New coach Mike Dunleavy has six new players, including rookies Anthony Avent, Todd Day and Lee Mayberry. Two players obtained from Utah, Blue Edwards and Eric Murdock, lead the Bucks in scoring (18.0) and assists (7.7), respectively. Avent, who played in Italy last season, is the leading rebounder (6.0). G Alvin Robertson and C Frank Brickowski are the only holdover starters. Milwaukee won the season series last year, 3-1.