Breakdowns give Bullets that sinking feeling: 0-2 Offense, defense fail in season openers


Opening the season against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics figured to give the Washington Bullets a good gauge of where they stood.

The 76ers are a young team with four players back from last season, and the Celtics are rebuilding after the off-season death of Reggie Lewis and retirement of Kevin McHale.

So the Bullets must be disappointed after back-to-back losses to teams that many have predicted to finish -- along with Washington -- at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

Attribute the losses to breakdowns on both ends of the court. On offense, the Bullets have not attacked the basket and seem confused at times in running the new half-court scheme.

Defensively, the games demonstrated the ease with which opponents are able to score inside on the Bullets. Through two games, opponents have scored 41 of their 82 field goals on layups or dunks. Some baskets have been the result of fast breaks, but many have come as a result of Washington's not playing good helping defense.

"[The points] aren't coming down low," said Washington center Kevin Duckworth. "They're cutting to the basket a lot on us. We have to play better individual defense and not allow that. We need some better rotation."

The philosophy of many teams is to be effective from the perimeter early in the game to establish inside play, but, against the Bullets, the game plan through two games has been the opposite. On Saturday, the Celtics missed their first seven shots from the perimeter, but had little trouble scoring inside -- their first five baskets were layups or dunks. On Friday, the 76ers ran a first-halflayup line against the Bullets, scoring 17 of 21 field goals from within five feet of the basket.

"Guys in Portland, they knew how to play the rotation defense," Duckworth said. "Even if you cheat defensively, they helped out a lot there. We've yet to realize that. But this is a young team, and it takes time."

Duckworth, who had a disappointing opening game (six points, three rebounds), at least demonstrated some aggressiveness Saturday. The 7-foot center scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Celtics in 36 minutes.

On offense, the Bullets have yet to look fluid running their sets. The result: Plays have broken down, with players seeming unsure where they're supposed to be on the court. It's a reason Washington is shooting 41.5 percent.

"We work [on the new offense] in practice, but sometimes guys revert to what comes natural to them," Unseld said. "It is going to take some time, but it will come."

However, the play of rookie Calbert Cheaney, who scored 20 against the Celtics, making eight of 14 shots from the field, was encouraging. He'll need the confidence as the Bullets face back-to-back games at Detroit tomorrow and at the USAir Arena against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

"We just have to keep working hard, and things will work out for themselves," Duckworth said.

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