LANDOVER -- Judging by the crowd response last night at the USAir Arena, the Washington Bullets' honeymoon is over. The team was booed as it fell behind by 26 points in the first half to the Detroit Pistons, booed as it missed one easy shot after another, and booed as it left the court in the latest of a line of embarrassing losses.
"Eventually we're going to get it together and they'll be cheering us," point guard Rod Strickland said. "But right now, the way we're playing, I want to boo myself."
Maybe if the expectations weren't so high for the Bullets this season, the response would be different. But the crowd of 15,111 expected a lot more than last night's 92-79 loss to Detroit, which improved to 5-1.
It was supposed to be a night of celebration for the Bullets, who were playing their first game of the season with 7-foot-7 center Gheorghe Muresan. Instead the Bullets fell to 2-5, losing their third straight. And they fell to 1-3 at the USAir Arena.
So much for home-court advantage.
In this, a season where few teams in the NBA seem to be able to score (only three teams were averaging better than 100 points going into last night), the Bullets needed a late surge to avoid the worst offensive performance in franchise history.
The 79 points were 10 more than Washington scored against Houston in 1993. That game was also when the Bullets established a franchise-low 25 points in a half, a mark the Bullets threatened last night before they ended the first half with 30 points.
"The first half could not have been any worse for this team," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "The shots were not good, and we looked very frustrated. It was real ugly."
There were two major problems for the Bullets last night. One was they could not put the ball in the basket. They missed from long distance and they missed on tip-ins, ending up shooting 38 percent. Many of the looks were pretty much open, yet Jaren Jackson (13 points, five of eight from the field) was the only
Bullet to shoot better than 50 percent.
"It's like having an idea in your head the whole way home, and then when you get home you got writer's block," said forward Chris Webber, trying to describe his team's poor shooting in the first half. "You do everything in practice, you're killing each other, playing well. Then you come to the game and it's hard to click. Everything just went in and out on us."
Another major problem was that the Bullets did not have an answer to Detroit guard Grant Hill, who flirted with a triple double: 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. When he wasn't hitting his shots, he was penetrating the lane and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
"Grant Hill is a great penetrator," Lynam said.
And Detroit center Terry Mills benefited from Hill's penetration, finishing with 19 points, including five of 10 three-pointers.
As for Mills' counterpart, Muresan, it was a night to forget. Muresan, who led the league in field-goal percentage last season, hit just one of seven shots last night and appeared tentative for much of his 24 minutes.
"I felt good before the game, but as the game started I didn't," said Muresan, returning from a hip flexor injury. "When I was in the game, I felt tired. I looked like I forgot my shot."
As did many of the Bullets, whose starting backcourt of Strickland and Calbert Cheaney shot a combined 5-for-16.
It was a bad game for everyone involved for the Bullets, which is why the crowd showed its disapproval. Webber, who a year ago was criticized for blasting the fans, bit his tongue last night -- although his disappointment with the fans' reaction was quite clear.
"I have no comment about Washington or their fans," said Webber, who scored a team-high 19 points.
Teammate Juwan Howard (15 points, 11 rebounds) did have a comment. "I respect the fact that they have high expectations," he said. "But when they boo they are not true fans."
But added Strickland: "We're on the East Coast, baby. This ain't Portland anymore," said the New York native and former Trail Blazer. "You got to come bring it. If you don't bring it, they're going to react and that's what they're doing now."
Opponent: New Jersey Nets
Site: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.
Time: 7: 30 TV/Radio: HTS/WWRC (980 AM)
Outlook: This is the second game in two nights for the Bullets, who were routed by the Detroit Pistons last night. The Bullets are 0-2 when playing the second of back-to-back games. The Nets (0-3) are playing their first game since coming back from Japan, where they lost a pair of games to Orlando. F Jayson Williams is third in the league in rebounding (15.3 rpg). G Kendall Gill (18.3 ppg) leads the Nets in scoring.
Pub Date: 11/13/96