Just before Juwan Howard left Chicago to join the Washington Bullets, he was given a warning by a friend there.
"He told me that when you go to the Washington Bullets you
might lose more games in your first year than you totaled in high school and college," Howard said. "I didn't believe it when he said that."
It's time to start believing. In three college seasons, Howard lost 22 games. As far as he can remember from high school in Chicago, he lost 19 games in three varsity seasons. With the 1994 portion of the season now complete with Friday's 115-101 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Bullets have a 7-19 record and don't seem to be near ending the slump that has led to 11 losses in the past 12 games.
"It's a test," Howard said. "It's a test on my patience."
Injuries at times have taken four of their five starters out of the lineup. Chris Webber, who separated his shoulder at Golden State on Dec. 22, will likely miss another month. Rex Chapman (sore groin) and Don MacLean (tendinitis in both knees) could be back by Jan. 15, although Chapman's return probably will be sooner.
With 18,756 fans witnessing the latest loss on Friday to the Spurs, the Bullets have sold out 10 straight games since the trade that brought Webber to Washington for Tom Gugliotta. But the sight of fans bailing out midway through the fourth quarter of Friday's game was an indication that the locals are getting a little restless with the team.
Forced to go with a patchwork lineup, the Bullets are getting hit with stretches where the entire game falls apart. Against San Antonio, the Bullets rallied at the start of the second quarter to take a 37-36 lead. But with David Robinson leading the way, the Spurs had a 65-51 lead by halftime. And with Chuck Person hitting a team-record eight three-pointers, the Spurs were on their way to an easy win.
"We play pretty well, then we have that one stretch where we make some critical mistakes," Calbert Cheaney said. "We get so far down, and it tends to hurt us for later in the game."
The story line is getting a bit redundant for the Bullets: the team loses again, and Howard continues his improvement. He had 18 points and 15 rebounds on Friday.
"Juwan Howard's been a bright spot, nonstop," coach Jim Lynam said. "Aside from that, we've struggled."
And until the regulars come back, there's no sign of letup. A brief break for the holidays ends Tuesday when the Seattle SuperSonics make their first appearance in town. The Bullets have lost 10 straight to Seattle.
Then it's on the road on Wednesday to play the Indiana Pacers and on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks -- when the Bullets could be in the national spotlight as the team against which Lenny Wilkens records his 939th win.
"I may sound like a broken record, but we're going to win," said Howard. "It's still early on, so other teams better watch out."