LANDOVER -- Coach Larry Brown spent 10 minutes before the game at the Capital Centre yesterday explaining why his San Antonio Spurs had lost six of their past eight games, the difficulties of carrying three rookies on the roster, and the importance of point guard Rod Strickland, who is out after breaking his hand in a bar fracas.
It was easy feeling sorry for Brown until the game started. Then it was a lot easier feeling sorry for the free-falling Washington Bullets.
The talent-rich Spurs (36-19), one of the leading title contenders in the National Basketball Association, found the prescription for whatever ailed them yesterday in handing the Bullets their worst home defeat of the season, 107-85, before a near-capacity crowd of 17,902. It was the sixth straight loss for the Bullets (22-36) and their 12th in the past 14 games as they continued to move closer to a place in the June lottery.
They had lost the three previous games -- two to the New York Knicks and one to the Milwaukee Bucks -- in heartbreaking fashion, blowing fourth-quarter leads and losing each one in the closing seconds.
But this time, Washington made a game of it for only a half. After spotting the Spurs an 18-point lead, the Bullets closed to 55-49 at halftime. But then former Naval Academy All-American David Robinson (26 points, 13 rebounds), cheered on by about 500 Midshipmen, got serious.
Robinson made all eight shots from the field in the second half, getting an opportunity to display the acrobatic dunks he employs on his Nike commercials.
Joined by forward Terry Cummings (22 points) and quick-stepping Sean Elliott (21 points) and Willie Anderson (14), the Spurs rolled to a 77-53 lead after three quarters. Even the worrisome Brown began to relax.
For most of the season, the Bullets at least have been competitive, drawing praise from rival coaches for their relentless hustle. But they lost their fighting spirit quickly yesterday against a team with far superior talent.
Brown tried to blame the Bullets' flat performance on their tough loss in Milwaukee on Friday night, but Bullets coach Wes Unseld would not accept it.
"I wouldn't give any credence to that explanation," he coach said. "If you look hard enough, you can find [any reason] you want. But right now, we're just totally out of sync. We'd have a tough time beating a team like the Spurs under the best of circumstances. But the way we're playing now, it makes it impossible."
Forward Harvey Grant, who has been openly critical of the Bullets' offense in recent weeks, was harsher in his appraisal.
"There's a point where it gets beyond frustration, and it's headed that way for players and the coaches," he said. "We have to show some pride and go out and earn our money. We have to show people we're not losers, but right now, we're playing like losers."
Only center Charles Jones showed signs of optimism. "We've got to get back to the way we played earlier this season, moving the ball offensively and helping out on defense," he said. "If we regroup, we still have time [24 games] to make a playoff run."
There was much more reason to believe that Robinson and the Spurs were back on course after a recent slump.
Strickland is expected back in mid-March and will be counted on to regenerate the Spurs' fast break. That will make Paul Pressey a key sixth man again and give the Spurs a powerful rotation.
"That's the best we've played on this road trip," said Brown, sounding a bit cheerful. "Robinson relaxed playing before his Navy buddies and seemed to enjoy himself. We made the extra pass on offense, and Sean Elliott did a good job of defending Bernard King [19 points, 10 below his average].
For the Bullets, things do not get any easier. Their three home games this week come against the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers.