MEXICO CITY -- It was a happy Washington Bullets team that boarded a charter, heading home following its two games in the NBA Challenge '95 here over the weekend. Happy about the cultural experience of a foreign country, maybe. But most definitely, just happy to be going home.
There was nothing personal on the part of the Bullets against the host city; it's just the players were a little homesick and would have preferred to spend their weekend on American turf. And after last night's 110-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Bullets finally came to the end of a six-game, 10-day road trip that featured games in three countries and was longer than any road journey they will encounter this season.
"It's been a long, long trip," Bullets guard Doug Overton said. "I'll be glad to get home."
The defeat was the fourth straight for the Bullets, who ended the preseason with a 2-6 record. It came despite another solid game by second-year forward Juwan Howard, who had 23 points and seven rebounds for Washington. With both Chris Webber and Mark Price out with injuries, the Bullets are relying heavily on Howard for leadership.
"We need that from him, the leadership that he gives us," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam.
For much of the night, it was a decent performance by the Bullets, who at one point in the first half fell behind by 16 points. Washington had a 99-93 lead with 4:24 left in the game, but Detroit scored the game's final 17 points to end the preseason with six straight wins (6-2).
Again, the Bullets were forced to play short-handed. Yesterday the Bullets added forward Don MacLean to the list of the walking wounded. MacLean, who on Friday expressed concern about eating the food and drinking the water here, missed the game last night with a stomach virus. He watched the game in street clothes from the locker room.
Guard Tim Legler also was suffering from a stomach virus, but after missing the entire preseason with a sore left heel, Legler suited up and played last night. That gave Washington nine bodies available for the game, with Overton (sprained ankle) and Calbert Cheaney (pulled hamstring) sitting out their second straight game.
Legler would play for 18 minutes, scoring four points.
"It feels good; this game was a good test," said Legler who, in one of his first defensive assignments, had to check Grant Hill. "For the first time out, I'll take it. I just have to get my conditioning back."
Howard, after a quiet six points in the first half, scored 12 in the third quarter, with Washington taking a 78-73 lead into the final period. And the lead was 99-93 after a Howard free throw with 4:24 left. But Lindsey Hunter (20 points) and Allan Houston hit back-to-back three-pointers that started the 17-0 game-ending run by the Pistons. It was the second time Detroit defeated Washington in the preseason.
"This was the first end-of-game situation for us," Lynam said. "We had some lapses on defense at the end, and that's something we'll work on this week. But I thought we did a good job to get back in the game."
And, after two games here, the Bullets are back home. While Howard performed well, he said it was tough to play in the high altitude.
"The altitude's tough and I really can't adjust to it. By my having asthma, it's been hard for me to breathe," Howard said. "For guys not used to playing in the altitude, it's been tough."
And still, the Bullets found a city south of the border that claims some die-hard basketball fans who sometimes have odd tastes. How else do you explain a sign held by a woman in the first row that said "Brent Price, My Dear Brother-in-Law."
"Hey, they just love me here," said Price, walking over to put his signature on the sign and giving the woman a thrill. "I guess I'm just international."