LANDOVER -- As the Washington Bullets walked off the court at halftime last night, a promotion flashed on the USAir Arena scoreboard that a certain fast-foot chain would provide free burgers if the Bullets reached 120 points.
Given the Bullets had just 30 points when the message flashed, the burgers appeared safe for another day.
Yes, the Bullets could manage just 30 points at the half. Which was why there were few fans in attendance at the end of last night's 92-79 loss to the Detroit Pistons, and many of those few were booing mightily. On the night when Washington expected to celebrate the return of Gheorghe Muresan to the lineup, it instead faced the stark reality of its third straight loss -- and its third loss at home this season.
"The first half of the game could not have been any worse for this team," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "The shots were not good and we looked frustrated."
The Bullets (2-4) lost because they were unable to put the ball into the basket, hitting just 38.0 percent for the game. And they lost because they had nobody who could defend Grant Hill, who finished with a near triple double: 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Hill is the main reason why the Pistons (5-1) are one of the early surprises in the NBA. Their only loss came against the defending champion Chicago Bulls, in a game Hill missed with a sore wrist.
Terry Mills scored 19 for the Pistons, who improved to 3-0 on the road. Detroit, which has yet to yield 100 points, lost its first six away games last season and went until Dec. 19 before winning a third time on the road.
Washington's Chris Webber finished with 19 points and Juwan Howard 15, but the Bullets needed a late run to surpass the franchise-low for points in a game (69).
It was a night that started with great anticipation, with the crowd cheering the return of Muresan. But by the half, the crowd had turned on the Bullets, who shot 26.1 percent before intermission.
"I have no comment on Washington or their fans," said Webber. "If you're doing everything you can do, you just have to be patient. We're working hard, and I'm encouraged by that. Every person in here [the Bullets locker room] has pride. We're upset, but we have pride."
The return of Muresan resulted in a game he would rather forget. Muresan, who missed the first five games on the injured list with a hip pointer, finished with four points and three rebounds in 24 minutes. The 7-foot-7 center hit just one of seven shots.
"I felt good before the game, but as the game started I didn't," said Muresan, who had been impressive in practice. "I tried to do everything, I worked very hard. When I was in the game I felt tired. I looked like I forgot my shot."
The Bullets' record low for points (25, occurring the last time in March 1993 against the Houston Rockets) appeared to be on the verge of being broken as they were stuck on 22 points with less than three minutes left.
Maybe it was a sign of things to come when Webber (4-for-12 from the field in the first half) missed his first two shots, both from within six feet of the basket.
The Bullets found themselves in an immediate hole, as the Pistons opened a 12-2 lead on a dunk by Mills five minutes into the game.
It wasn't that the Bullets weren't getting good shots -- many of their attempts were of the open variety. But Washington would hit just six of 22 shots, and ended the quarter trailing, 28-15.
Instead of using the break between quarters to gather themselves, the Bullets just came out flatter. As Washington opened the quarter missing seven straight shots, the Pistons were increasing their lead to 33-15 after a dunk by Donald Reid with 8: 18 left.
After Mills hit a three-pointer with 3: 49 left to give Detroit a 45-22 lead, the Bullets called time and were booed loudly.
The only thing that saved the Bullets from a record-breaking half was a late surge, scoring the final eight points to pull within 48-30 at halftime.
Washington tried to make it a game of it in the third quarter. But the Bullets had no answer for Hill, who continually created scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates with his quick penetration moves to the basket.
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. The Bullets split with New Jersey last season.
Pub Date: 11/13/96