Unseld, Bullets have that helpless feeling Nets' rout exposes defensive woes


The 124-79 whipping the Washington Bullets received from the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands on Saturday night was not the worst defeat in franchise history.

Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who suffered this latest embarrassment on the sidelines, was a participant in the record-setter -- a 151-99 drubbing by a then-youthful Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks in Milwaukee on Jan. 10, 1971.

That classic rout was memorable for several reasons. With little more than a minute left, and the battered Bullets hoping to catch a red-eye flight to California, high-flying forward Gus Johnson took off from behind the foul line.

The monstrous force of his dunk sent glass flying. Rather than concede the game to the Bucks, the officials ordered the final minute to be played. It took more than an hour to replace the backboard, the Bullets missed their flight and no one spoke to Johnson for a week.

Reminded of that comic/historic night in Bullets history, Unseld said, "If one of my players had done the same thing against the Nets, I would have shot him."

"I know exactly how Wes feels," said Nets coach Chuck Daly. "I went through the same thing in Philadelphia earlier this week when we lost by 26. You feel real helpless. But I've got the utmost respect for Wes as a coach. He's a real competitive guy, that's why it's really got to be hurting him."

The Bullets (10-22) own the fourth-worst record in the NBA, but have proved competitive most nights, losing nine of their games by eight points or less.

But they took a long backward step against the Nets, looking totally inept offensively and defensively. They shot 33 percent and allowed New Jersey to make 60 percent of its shots, many from point-blank range.

The night before at the Capital Centre, Washington spotted Philadelphia an early 16-point lead, fought back but lost on a buzzer-beating shot by 76ers forward Ron Anderson.

Asked about his team's propensity for creating large deficits in the first half, Unseld said, "I believe I know why, but I'm not ready to talk about it right now. I'll just try to correct it."

One obvious problem is the lack of a defensive guard. Last year, David Wingate filled this role. He is now with the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bullets' backcourt starters -- Michael Adams (because of a lack of size) and Rex Chapman (perhaps for lack of practice) -- rarely stop quick guards such as Kenny Anderson, Mookie Blaylock or Mark Price from penetrating inside for easy shots or assists.

The interior defense is also vulnerable. Physical types such as Charlotte's Larry Johnson and 76ers rookie Clarence Weatherspoon, who demonstrated it Friday night, can set up shop wherever they please while meeting little resistance against the less-physical Bullets front-liners.

That leaves Unseld with the option of trying to outscore the opposition. Reminded recently that veteran forward Bernard King, waiting to be reactivated, was less than a defensive force, Unseld said, "Sometimes the best defense is a good offense."

It is something for the Bullets to ponder as King tries to convince management he can provide scoring and leadership for a young, struggling team searching for an identity.

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