LANDOVER -- When the first shot of the game is an air ball from Bernard King in the lane, everyone should know it is going to be a long night. But when the opposing team is the Miami Heat, well, no one wants to believe it.
"It could very well be the ugliest game I've seen this season," said Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who saw his team go flat, flatter, flattest down the stretch in a 104-90 defeat last night before 7,183 at the Capital Centre.
When it was over, the coach was willing to let others offer reasons for the way his team played.
Asked if the Bullets were a little flat, after playing so well in a loss to the Chicago Bulls two nights ago: "We might have been a little flat."
Asked if the Bullets may have been looking ahead to tomorrow's game here with the New York Knicks, a fellow playoff contender: "We might have been looking ahead."
Asked if pro basketball was like tennis, a game where players reach a certain level and then fall back a bit before advancing to the next level: "It might be like tennis."
Wes Unseld actually found a smile.
His team couldn't beat Miami's 2-2-1 trap on the offensive end and committed 18 turnovers. And despite Unseld's constant on-court directives, the Bullets couldn't muster a defense to contain Glen Rice (27 points), Rony Seikaly (24 points, 11 rebounds) or Sherman Douglas (20 points).
It's the kind of thing that echoes in the mind: Rice, Seikaly and Douglas, Rice, Seikaly and Douglas. Over and over, down the lane, and through the willows to hoop after hoop they went.
"I've got no answers," Unseld said. "Give Miami some credit. They did some good things. They beat us to key spots and we couldn't make adjustments. We're not shooting the ball very well. We had no flow. We ran for a while, but with the lineup we have, we're not a running team. Bernard struggled. We were careless with the ball."
A thousand points of darkness in a crushing loss.
The Bullets have one day to regroup, before seeing the New York Knicks here tomorrow night. And regroup they must, to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"We needed this game," said Harvey Grant, who was held to 12 points, seven under his average. "New York had already lost [to Seattle, 120-101] and this would have put us in third place. Now we've got to get ready for New York and we need to beat New York."
When stone-faced Bernard King actually laughed -- twice -- during the game, everyone should have known something was up. But who would have thought he would not score another field goal after the 3:07 mark of the first quarter?
No doubt he would have been asked about his 15-point performance, 14 below his average, but he was nowhere to be found after the game. The Heat's Billy Thompson was the man responsible for the Bullets' All-Star forward, and he wasn't afraid to put on the pressure.
"I played him tight," Thompson said. "We were both pushing and they were not calling any fouls. When I needed help with Bernard, help was there."
There was no help for the Bullets.
Forward John Williams (eight points), who was playing his first game on the home court since injuring his knee Dec. 2, 1989, took a turn at point guard to relieve some pressure on rookie A.J. English (15 points, seven assists) and Ledell Eackles (16 points), but it was not enough.
Pervis Ellison looked like he might turn into an offensive hero, after struggling like everyone else defensively. He scored seven of his 17 points rallying the Bullets from a 75-65 deficit to within 75-73 with 7:51 to go. But Douglas, Seikaly and Rice continued to pound away.
"I didn't see anything out there I liked," concluded Unseld.
And no one else did either.