LANDOVER -- The Washington Bullets' losing streak has hit four games, and it's becoming clear that the team needs help with its outside offense.
In a hurry.
The Bullets seem to be on the verge of correcting their problems on the inside, as Chris Webber and Juwan Howard keep improving. But with no consistent outside game, Washington lost to the Utah Jazz, 95-85, last night before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
This game was lost in the backcourt. Utah's starting tandem of John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek outscored Scott Skiles and Calbert Cheaney, 34-26. They were 15-for-26 from the field (57.6 percent), and Skiles and Cheaney were 9-for-24 (37.5 percent). They had 18 assists (Stockton had 14 -- 10 in the first half), to six for the Bullets' starters (Skiles had two in 31 minutes).
"We have trouble scoring, plain and simple," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said after his team shot 41 percent. "We have to hang tough. We're going through a rough stretch, and we're putting a lot of pressure on our defense."
For the second night in a row the defense held an opponent to 95 points or fewer (Houston scored 93 on Tuesday). The Bullets, though, have been held to 85 points for two straight games.
It just shows how much Rex Chapman and Don MacLean are missed. Chapman was in a suit on the bench, missing his fourth straight game with an injured right groin. MacLean is on the injured list with tendinitis in both knees. The two are the team's most consistent outside shooters.
"We're having problems scoring from the perimeter," Lynam said. "[The injuries] are putting a little bit more pressure on guys getting more time than they were getting before."
Cheaney, who entered the game having hit 38.8 percent from the field over the previous four games, made just six of 18 shots (he scored 15).
Since Chapman's injury forced him into a starting role as shooting guard, Cheaney hasn't appeared totally comfortable.
"The shot's there, but I'm not going aggressive and shooting it like I should," Cheaney said. "When guys are scoring and rebounding on the inside, you have to get perimeter play."
Like the Jazz did. When Stockton drove to the basket and drew the defense, he simply passed to Hornacek, who nailed his jumpers. One can't overlook the contribution of Karl Malone, either; he had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Malone and Washington assistant coach Derek Smith exchanged words at the end of the first half, with Smith eventually getting ejected. Smith got his first technical with 6.3 seconds left when he and Malone had words during a 20-second timeout. At the half, Malone and Smith crossed paths -- and Smith was whistled for his second technical and ejected.
"When he drove the lane he kicked Kevin Duckworth, and I just told Karl that he hadn't changed much," said Smith, who said a punch by Malone in the late 1980s broke his eye socket, nose and cheekbone. "It's not like I'm carrying a burning desire for Karl. But I'm not the first to say he's a cheap, dirty player."
At the half the Bullets trailed 47-39, staying that close because Howard (nine points, five rebounds), Webber (10 points) and Mitchell Butler (nine points) provided a spark. Lynam shook up his lineup in the second half, starting Butler and Howard and sitting starters Duckworth and Anthony Tucker.
"I'm always surprised," Duckworth, who finished with four points and four rebounds, said when asked about sitting. "Maybe Coach knew my Achilles' was sore."
The third-quarter changes didn't help. The Bullets would fall behind by as many as 17 and trailed 75-63 going into the final period. They would never get to within single digits again, as they lost for the fifth time in seven December games.
Once again the Bullets hurt themselves at the free throw line, missing 10 of 15. "We could have made it a game if we had more foul shots," Lynam said.
The Bullets hope things get better. There's a strong possibility they could get worse. A win tomorrow night against the Minnesota Timberwolves is almost a must, because after that the Bullets hit the road again for a four-game Western trip that starts Monday night in Phoenix.
"Guys are going to come and go [with injuries], but the most frustrating thing is how we're playing," Skiles said. "We all have to take responsibility for that and play better."
NOTES: The New York Knicks cut Doc Rivers yesterday, and the Bullets, who could use a backup point guard, will consider the veteran if he clears waivers. "Doc Rivers has been a highly successful player," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "He will dictate who he goes to. I suppose his wish would be to play for a team that could win a championship [right away].". . . . Chapman tested his injury during yesterday's shoot-around. "He's day-to-day," Lynam said. "These things take time, and you just don't want to rush them"