In a spare moment between yesterday's practice and the team's flight to Indianapolis for tonight's game against the Pacers, Washington Bullets forward Tom Gugliotta tried to put the team's seven-game losing streak in perspective.
"The NBA is a cruel, cruel world sometimes for young, inexperienced teams," Gugliotta said. "Every night somebody is trying to swallow you up. There's no mercy."
For the Bullets, the merciless stretch has included nine straight games against teams .500 or better. The only win during that stretch was against the Orlando Magic at USAir Arena Nov. 27. Since then, the Bullets have not won and are two games shy of their season-high losing streak of last season.
Included in Washington's recent stretch were four games against division leaders (two games each against Central Division-leading Atlanta and Pacific Division-leading Seattle) and two games against strong second-place teams (defending Western Conference champion Phoenix, and Utah, second in the Midwest).
The Bullets were overmatched. But they should get an idea of how competitive they are over the next three weeks: Seven of their next nine games are against teams with losing records.
"We're just trying to end this losing streak," Gugliotta said. "We don't want something to happen that's going to destroy our confidence."
Only the Dallas Mavericks, winless over their past 10 games, have a worse record over the past 10 than the Bullets (1-9). But tonight's game could be a confidence-booster: The Pacers are 7-11 and have split their past 10 games.
Still, coach Wes Unseld doesn't place any more importance oIndiana (which was 3-1 against the Bullets last season) than he does on any other team.
"They're all important, and if you look at it any other way, you're making a mistake," Unseld said. "Since they all count the same, we have to go out and try to win every game that we can."
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Bullets guard Calbert Cheaney, who was born in Evansville, Ind., and earned college Player of the Year honors at Indiana University in Bloomington. It will be his first game in his home state as a professional, but the 6-foot-7 rookie said the game is "no big deal."
"I just want to go back and play and to see a few friends, that's it," Cheaney said. "All I'm trying to do is help get a victory for us."
Cheaney said his mother won't even be seeing him live.
"My mom has to work," Cheaney said. "She took all of her vacation time for the year already. She'll get a chance to see me next year."
Several Indiana University players have told Cheaney that they will drive from Bloomington to see their former teammate play. But there's no word whether Indiana coach Bob Knight, suspended for a game last week for his sideline conduct, will make an appearance.
"That wasn't a big deal for [Knight] to call a timeout and [berate] a player like that," Cheaney said when asked about the incident.