Ask Washington Bullets guard Scott Skiles about his team's recent stretch, and he talks about it like a disease.
"It appears to be contagious," Skiles said last night. "I just don't know what to say about it."
It has been said many, many, many times this season already -- 40 times now to be exact. Playing in their home away from home last night at the Baltimore Arena, a place where the team is usually at least competitive, the Bullets lost for the sixth straight time, 107-92, before a crowd of 12,756.
The losing streak is the longest in the NBA. It dropped Washington's record to 12-40, second-worst in the league only to the Los Angeles Clippers. Night in and night out, the Bullets are left sounding like a broken record, trying to put a different twist on the same old story.
"It's frustrating," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "I'm not even sure what that word means anymore."
The Bullets got beat in a lot of areas last night. First in the starting backcourt, where Atlanta's Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock outscored Washington's Calbert Cheaney and Skiles 52-27. Then in rebounding, where Atlanta's 44-37 edge featured 18 offensive boards. Then in turnovers, with the Bullets commiting 20 total, 18 in the first three quarters.
So, it was no surprise that Washington fell behind by as many as 21 points in this one.
Unlike the Dallas Mavericks, who came from 21 down to beat the Bullets on Tuesday, there would be no such miracle on this night.
"It's about experience and playing together and that's what we don't have," said Juwan Howard, who scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. "With this team it's different; we have to find a way to win together. We've only been playing three months together. The continuity is not there."
Howard has a point. But at the same time he was signing his contract and Chris Webber was coming over in a trade, the Hawks were also being pieced together with a trade. Blaylock and Smith have played just over three months together, but they demonstrated a great deal of chemistry last night. Blaylock didn't even look for his shot early in the game, but when he did he connected. During a five-minute stretch from the end of the first quarter to the start of the second, Blaylock scored 15 straight points for the Hawks, helping turn a four-point deficit into a six-point lead. He finished with 25 points, doing all of his scoring during the first three quarters (he took one shot in 11 fourth-quarter minutes).
He didn't need to score in the fourth. That's because Smith scored 14 of his game-high 27 points in the fourth, making six of nine shots that included two three-pointers. He single-handedly turned back any Bullets thoughts of a late comeback.
"They just drove the middle, drew some help and kicked it out for the open shots," Skiles said. "You try to do the best you can [defensively]."
For the Bullets, that turned out to be very little. For the third straight game Skiles was a mere spectator for the final quarter. His lack of quickness with his team trailing late in games forces Lynam to go with Doug Overton down the stretch. Skiles didn't even get off the bench in the fourth quarter last night.
"I've played 600 NBA games," Skiles said, seemingly taking his reduced role in stride. "It's one of those things, coach's decision."
Webber scored 24 to lead the Bullets, but it was far from a dominating performance. Webber impressed with his dunks and hit two three-pointers. But at the half he had zero rebounds. He finished with five.
Atlanta had no such rebounding problems. Grant Long grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. Stacey Augmon and Andrew Lang each grabbed seven. And Ken Norman came off the bench and had six.
There were no problems scoring, either. Six players scored in double figures.
It seems as if you can't have a Bullets game without someone setting some sort of record. Last night it was Lenny Wilkens, who earlier this year won his NBA-record 938th win against the Bullets. Wilkens became the NBA leader in number of games played and coached, counting regular season, playoff and All-Star games. He passed Don Nelson.
The Bullets get another shot to night, against the Sacramento Kings.
"It's better to get back on the horse," Lynam said.
NOTE: Forward Don MacLean, on the injured list with a broken right thumb, will practice Monday.
During their six-game losing streak, the Bullets have scored 92 points five times:
Date ....... Opp. ...... Score
Feb. 15 ... Chicago .... 107-92
Feb. 17 ... Houston .... 109-92
Feb. 19 .... Denver ..... 94-92
Feb. 21 .... Dallas .... 102-97
Feb. 22 ... Milwaukee .. 100-92
Feb. 24 .... Atlanta ... 107-92