CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If the NBA awarded points for effort, the Washington Bullets wouldn't be mired at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
But in the pros, the only thing that counts is wins and losses and after the Bullets lost to the Charlotte Hornets, 124-104, last night, the undermanned Bullets dropped to 16-41 with little hope in sight.
Coach Wes Unseld's team is struggling with center Pervis Ellison (sprained left knee), guards Rex Chapman (sprained right ankle) and Doug Overton (torn ligament, left thumb) all on the injured list. In addition, LaBradford Smith is suffering from a sprained left ankle and did not travel with the team.
It's little wonder why the Bullets have lost their last four games.
Against the Hornets, Washington simply didn't have enough players to compete against a Hornets team that includes two of the NBA's newest stars in Larry Johnson, last season's Rookie of the Year, and rookie center Alonzo Mourning.
That is why Unseld had to look to his bench to find a lineup capable of stopping the Hornets. It nearly worked as Washington battled back from a 16-point deficit at 58-42 near the end of the second quarter to cut Charlotte's lead to two -- 64-62 -- with 6:17 left in the third quarter.
"The bench did what they could," Unseld said. "When we cut it down to two, I thought we were probably a little lucky.
"This was a game of runs. They would have a run, and then we would have a run, they would have a run and we would have another run. "Our lineup wasn't stopping them and wasn't scoring, so we changed around. The bench did what they could, but Charlotte is too big and too physical for us to keep out of the paint, so they just ran down and threw it up high."
Those size problems became evident after the Bullets cut the Hornets' lead to two after Buck Johnson's dunk with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter. That is when Johnson and Mourning took over for the Hornets, with a little help from Dell Curry's outside shooting.
The Hornets outscored Washington 14-4 to regain control of the game at 78-66. Charlotte entered the fourth quarter with a 84-72 lead, and rapidly built it up to 27 points when former Baltimore Dunbar star Muggsy Bogues fired off a pass to Curry, who connected from the top of the key with 7:05 remaining.
With the Hornets up 105-78, there was little the Bullets could do to stop the onslaught.
"We were down by 16 and came back to make it 64-62, but after that, we ran out of gas," Bullets forward Harvey Grant said after scoring 15 points and pulling down six rebounds. "Down the stretch, we didn't play well defensively.
"But we didn't give up. It's a job and they pay you a lot of money to do your job, so it's pride that keeps you going."
The Bullets were led in scoring by two bench players, Johnson with 19 and rookie Don MacLean, who scored 17. Larry Stewart also came off the bench to add 16 points and 11 assists.
"Don came in and gave us some scoring, which we need," Grant said. "You can't ask for much more than that."
The Hornets, who improved to 32-26 to set a team record for most wins in a season, were led by Johnson's 23 points and 13 rebounds, Curry's 22 points off the bench, and Mourning's 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Former Baltimore Dunbar and Georgetown star David Wingate scored five points to go along with his former high school teammate Bogues, who had six points and 13 assists.
Bullets rookie Tom Gugliotta believes with all the injuries, it has pushed the team beyond its capabilities.
"Everybody is playing more minutes than they should," Gugliotta said. "A lot of games, we are playing nearly the entire game and tonight, we played to their strengths. We didn't have an offensive center and we didn't have anybody to keep Alonzo honest."