LANDOVER -- The injury-depleted Cleveland Cavaliers suffered without a field goal for close to eight minutes and missed their first 15 shots in the final quarter, but Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld was not taking any bows for his team's 101-82 victory that ended a three-game losing streak.
"They were hurt more than we were, and that was the story of this game," Unseld said of the two lottery-bound teams. "You can't play well with the guys they were missing."
The Bullets were minus scoring leader Bernard King, nursing a sore back for the fourth straight game. But the Cavaliers were without point guard Mark Price, who played only the first month of the season, plus their two top scorers -- center Brad Daugherty (sprained foot) and forward Larry Nance (flu).
The patchwork Cavaliers overcame a 56-41 deficit early in the third quarter to move ahead, 66-63. But they soon went into a deep funk.
After Darrell Valentine made two free throws to tie it at 72 in the first 15 seconds of the fourth quarter, Cleveland would not score again until reserve forward Henry James made a layup with 4 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
In the meantime, the Bullets (27-45), led by rookie guard A.J. English (16 points) went on a 14-0 tear to take a 86-72 lead.
In their futile final quarter, the Cavaliers, one loss removed from playoff elimination, shot 3-for-22 from the field and committed six turnovers.
Reliving the fourth period, veteran guard Craig Ehlo said: "I can remember quarters where we've missed nine or 10 shots in a row, but not 15. You figure to get a layup along the way. But the Bullets went to their quick guards -- English and [Haywoode] Workman -- and they really got after us and did a good job switching. We struggled to get off a good shot."
Cavaliers coach Lenny Wilkens, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, thought the inept shooting was a result of his ineffective reserves.
"Every time we substituted, it seemed we went downhill," said Wilkens.
The Cavaliers proved particularly vulnerable in the backcourt. When reserves Gerald Paddio and John Morton were on the floor together, they were outscored, 32-9, by their Bullet counterparts.
"Most of our recent games against Boston and Philadelphia, we played well," said Wilkens. "But this was the first game our intensity was so low."
The Bullets were not exactly playing at a fever pitch. But they did manage to get balanced scoring, with six players hitting double figures, led by guard Ledell Eackles' game-high 21 points.
But this game was won on the boards, with Washington out-rebounding Cleveland, 49-36, led by Harvey Grant's career-high 16 rebounds.
Once the Bullets controlled the boards and got their transition game in gear, they were able to regenerate an offense that produced 18 points in the third quarter.
"They were 0-15 in one stretch the fourth quarter, but I think we were 0-for-April in the third," Unseld said, joking.
"It's no secret," he added. "We struggle whenever we have to rely on a half-court game, especially with Bernard out of the lineup. We've got to run to be effective."
English, who was one of the rookie surprises the first half of the season, has seen scant action since the All-Star break.
"I'm a shooter, and it's hard getting a feel for things on the floor when you've been sitting a long time," English said. "But this is a typical rookie transition I'm going through. I've just got to try and stay ready and finish out the season strong."
The Cavaliers, taking a hard-look at rookie forward Danny Ferry (15 points, six rebounds) for whom they mortgaged much of their future, would also like to finish on an up note. But last night's performance was hardly a favorable sign.
NOTES: Although the Cavaliers will miss the playoffs for the first time in four years, coach Lenny Wilkens had his contract extended for another four years at a reported $500,000 a season