LANDOVER -- They showed up, at USAir Arena last night in a festive mood. The 18,765 fans were met with marching bands and a laser show with celebrity look-alikes, and they were eager to get a glimpse of the new-look Washington Bullets.
What the Bullets fans saw, instead, was a team still struggling to mesh, and that was clearly evident in last night's 100-88 loss to the Boston Celtics before a sellout crowd.
For the second game in a row, Washington (0-2) had a poor shooting night, making 43.6 percent of its shots from the field. But shooting woes aside, a main concern has to be starting the season with players who are still not in sync.
"We've got to execute better," Washington coach Wes Unseld said when asked about his team's lack of offense. "Practicing together will help, but we have to take it on the floor with us."
What the team has taken on the floor, instead, has been two poor efforts against teams that many have predicted will be at the bottom of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. The Bullets lost Friday night to a Philadelphia team that cut most of its roster in the off-season and returned just four players from a year ago. Last night the loss was to a Celtics team that is reeling from the death of Reggie Lewis, who was honored before the game.
But Boston, which played the New York Knicks tough in a loss Friday night, may be a better team than people are giving it credit for. For the second game in a row, the Celtics had six players in double figures, with forward Kevin Gamble leading with 18 last night.
"That's a good sign for us," said Boston coach Chris Ford, whose team beat the Bullets for the fifth straight time. "It was nice to see the guys come back with the same consistent effort."
The only consistency for the Bullets last night was in the play of point guard Michael Adams and rookie forward Calbert Cheaney. Adams scored 24 points (10 of 17 from the field) and had nine assists. Cheaney gave the home crowd a glimpse of a future to come, scoring 20 points (eight of 14 from the field), and was one of the few players on the team to attack the basket.
"All I want to do is play the best I possibly can," Cheaney said. "But if we don't win, it doesn't mean much."
Just like Friday night in Philadelphia, Washington was still within striking distance at the start of the fourth quarter, which it entered trailing, 76-68. But after the Bullets cut the lead to 78-72 on a baseline dunk by Cheaney with 10:24 left, the Celtics ran off 10 straight points in the next 1:51 -- with each of the five reserves on the court scoring one basket each -- to take an 88-72 lead with 8:08 left.
That was the lift Boston needed, as Ford was able to give his reserves extra minutes. Rookie forward Dino Radja scored 14 points in reserve, and veteran Xavier McDaniel had 12 (six of 10) in 18 minutes. Boston's bench out-scored Washington's, 40-6.
"We had good balance like we had in the exhibition season," Ford said. "A lot of guys contributed in different ways, and the second unit didn't falter. But defense won it for us tonight."
In addition to the play of Adams and Cheaney, and the continued presence on the boards by Tom Gugliotta (12 rebounds last night, 31 in two games), the Bullets had to be happy to get some effort from Kevin Duckworth, who had an awful, six-point, three-rebound performance in Philadelphia. While Duckworth's nine points and 10 rebounds last night leaves room for improvement, he appeared more active than Friday when he faced 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley and Moses Malone.
"After the way I played on Friday, you can't help but come out and be more physical," Duckworth said. "You can't rush things. I just have to keep on working hard."
Although Unseld is not displeased with the number of points his team has allowed in two games, the Bullets need to improve their interior defense.
"[The interior defense] wasn't the problem tonight," Unseld said. "They didn't get more easy shots then we did. The difference was they made more than we did."