Bullets are hurting for some answers Winless, ailing team provides few options

October 28, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

The bad news is that the Washington Bullets, facing their final preseason test tonight against the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., have lost 15 straight exhibition games dating back to October 1989.

The good news is that the losses don't count until the regular NBA season opens Friday night.

But coach Wes Unseld is enough of a realist to know the results are likely to be the same until Pervis Ellison (groin pull) and Ledell Eackles (bruised rib) return to action.

Unseld's options were severely limited Saturday night when the depleted Bullets dropped a 93-86 decision to the Boston Celtics in Albany, N.Y.

With Ellison absent, Unseld was forced to start defensive-minded Charles Jones at center.

Forward Harvey Grant, who had missed the first six exhibitions with a sprained ankle, played 42 minutes and tired noticeably in the fourth quarter after scoring 15 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and policing Celtics star Larry Bird.

Down the stretch, Grant repeatedly missed open shots and complained to Unseld that his "lungs were burning." But Unseld had no other veterans on his bench with Bernard King lost until December after knee surgery and a disgruntled John Williams again waiting out a salary dispute in California.

Unseld, however, did find a few positives in this latest setback. He has watched his players gain a better understanding of the motion offense and trapping defense, employed to compensate for the Bullets' lack of muscle and scoring punch inside.

"I thought our trapping defense was very effective against the Celtics," said Unseld. "Offensively, we consistently got good shots. We just didn't make them, but hopefully that will come."

Unseld still must cut two players to get down to the 12-man maximum by Thursday night.

David Wingate, the Baltimore native who played previously for Philadelphia and San Antonio, strengthened his cause Saturday night with solid defense. Wingate also has the advantage of having played both guard positions.

Coppin State graduate Larry Stewart also solidified his bid to win a forward spot. In 25 minutes, Stewart scored 16 points (6-for-9) and grabbed eight rebounds. With an instinctive knack for moving without the ball, Stewart repeatedly broke free against the Celtics.

Small forward Albert King, also competing to fill the void left by older brother Bernard, missed his first 10 shots, but hit his last four. The former Maryland star, who played in the CBA last season, also impressed Unseld by grabbing 12 rebounds.

Unseld appears to be leaning toward keeping both Stewart and King to bolster the sagging frontcourt.

More vulnerable is point guard Corey Gaines, shooting guard Tim Legler and center Cedric Lewis. Legler and Lewis each played only six minutes against Boston, and Gaines is struggling to win the supporting role to point guard Michael Adams.

With Bernard King's consistent 20-point performances not available the first month of the season, the Bullets sorely need offensive help. Unless general manager John Nash finds a proven scorer on the waiver list, Unseld may favor retaining Albert King as long as possible.

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