ALBANY, N.Y. -- It was only fitting that in the home of the Continental Basketball Association Albany Patroons, the injury-depleted Washington Bullets started three former CBA performers in guard Michael Adams, forward Albert King and center Charles Jones against the Boston Celtics last night.
This only made it a little easier to accept a 15th straight preseason defeat for the Bullets, who bowed to the Celtics, 93-86, before a sellout crowd of 16,049. Washington has not won an exhibition game since beating the New Jersey Nets in October 1989.
The Bullets managed only 16 points in the last quarter when one of their training camp rejects, Anderson Hunt of Nevada-Las Vegas, scored three baskets down the stretch to help the Celtics finish their preseason with a 4-4 mark. Washington, now 0-7 this year, closes its exhibition schedule against the Detroit Pistons in The Palace at Auburn Hills, Mich., tomorrow night.
The Celtics also were hurting, but the return of Larry Bird has everyone in Boston feeling upbeat about the team's potential. The 12-year veteran looks in remarkable shape, having lost some 20 pounds in a year's time.
"I can't say that Bird had back surgery in June from what I've seen," said coach Chris Ford. "He hasn't shied away from anybody. Last year, Larry couldn't catch the ball and shoot in one motion. Now he's doing it just like he did before hurting his back."
Bird, an NBA icon, is leading the Celtics in scoring in the preseason, and driving to the hoop and rebounding without a sign of pain.
"I'm very encouraged," said Bird, who signed a two-year contract extension last week. "I'm in excellent shape, but have no idea of how things are going to go down the road, but so far so good. Hopefully, it will stay that way."
Meanwhile, both Ford and Bullets coach Wes Unseld were waiting for key players to return to health or to end contract stalemates.
In Boston's case, perennial All-Star forward Kevin McHale is still recuperating from ankle surgery.
Small forward Kevin Gamble, a restricted free agent who averaged 15.6 points last year, is seeking a substantial pay boost.
For Washington, forward Bernard King, the team's scoring leader last season, is not expected back until mid-December following knee surgery. And, for the second straight year, all-purpose forward John Williams is sitting it out in California in a squabble over excess weight and withheld salary.
Also missing last night were center Pervis Ellison (groin), guard/forward Ledell Eackles (bruised ribs), forward Tom Hammonds (flu), and rookie guard LaBradford Smith (ankle).
The Celtics' makeshift lineup proved more effective in the opening minutes. Three blocked shots triggered an early 10-4 lead for Boston.
Adams, penetrating and hitting a pair of three-pointers, scored 10 points to push the Bullets in front, 16-15.
Both coaches turned to their reserves, and the scoring stalled as the turnovers increased. Larry Stewart scored consecutive layups for Washington, but Boston held a 21-20 lead after one quarter.
Using his gift for breaking free underneath, Stewart scored six more points to give Washington a 32-29 edge early in the second quarter. Grant sponsored an 8-2 Bullets run to pad the lead to 40-33. The offense stalled, and the Celtics reclaimed the lead at halftime, 45-42.
The Bullets scored the first eight points of the second half to bounce back on top, 50-45, with Albert King snapping an 0-for-10 shooting spell by converting his own missed shot.
Bird found the range for two three-pointers to produce a 58-58 tie. The lead continued to change hands with Bird and A.J. English doing most of the scoring. Ed Pinckney's buzzer-beating three-point play left Boston with a 74-70 advantage after three quarters.
Washington struggled five minutes without a point and also got in early foul trouble in the fourth quarter.