Bullets hit franchise low in 90-69 loss to Rockets Without Ellison, Grant, offense sags


LANDOVER -- No, the Washington Bullets did not hit rock bottom in losing at home to the hapless Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.

They reached the nadir of their frustrating season at the Capital Centre last night, managing a franchise-low 69 points in falling to the Houston Rockets in a 90-69 snoozer before a hooting crowd of 11,761.

The last-place Bullets (19-47) broke their ignominious record of 71 points first set against the New York Knicks on Feb. 26, 1974, and matched a year later in Landover against the Golden State Warriors.

In a word, this was ugly. The fans eventually tired of berating the Bullets' dismal effort that saw them register only 59 points in the first 44 minutes before the Rockets' defense relaxed and allowed them 10 points in garbage time.

Bullets coach Wes Unseld could point to the absence of starting center Pervis Ellison, on the injured list with a sprained knee, and team scoring leader Harvey Grant, who has strep throat.

In the past, others have stepped up offensively to at least make the Bullets respectable, but last night, there was collective guilt. Washington was a model of inconsistency, shooting 28-for-85 (33 percent) and never scoring more than 18 points in a quarter.

"Nobody showed up tonight," point guard Michael Adams said. "No one wanted to do the fundamentals, like setting a pick or screen. Everyone was looking to create his own shot, one-on-one."

Amazingly, for all their inadequacies, the Bullets were still in the game with 10 minutes remaining, trailing 66-57 after Rex Chapman made two free throws.

But in the next six minutes, the Midwest Division-leading Rockets (44-24) went on 14-2 spree for an 80-59 cushion. The few fans who remained started clamoring to watch the George Washington-Michigan NCAA tournament game on the Telscreen.

"Any time you hold a team to 90 points, you're supposed to win in this league," said Unseld. "But we can't expect to win when we're missing close to 40 points from our offense. We got good shots, but they just wouldn't fall."

But their shots were hardly that easy. All too often, it appeared the Bullets launched low-percentage, desperation shots at the basket with the 24-second clock expiring.

Rookie Tom Gugliotta tried posting up, but hit only five of 16 attempts, and Larry Stewart, who led the 106-100 victory over the Rockets in Houston on Feb. 8, had difficulty slithering inside while playing an uncustomary role of small forward in Grant's place.

And there were few fast-break opportunities for the Bullets with Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe combining for 33 rebounds. All told, Washington scored 13 points in transition.

The Rockets were having problems offensively, with Olajuwon limited to 10 points -- 15 below his average -- by the aggressive policing of Charles Jones and constant double-teaming.

"Our defense saved us tonight," said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "We were sluggish and sloppy. But defense has been a strong suit all year. We don't have the type of team to outscore the opposition consistently. We create turnovers and force the other team into low-percentage shots, and guys just start feeding off each other."

But even though Olajuwon didn't come close to his season average of 25.6 points, he still played a key role in the offense.

With Olajuwon consistently passing out of the low post, the Rockets capitalized by swinging the ball to the open man. Vernon Maxwell (18 points), reserve forward Matt Bullard (11 points) and sub guard Scott Brooks (11) capitalized by hitting jumpers against the sagging Bullets defense. Still, the Rockets shot only 43 percent from the field.

Olajuwon, who led the league in blocked shots coming into last night at 4.13 per game, contributed three blocks last night.

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