LANDOVER -- On their recent Western swing, Washington Bullets assistant coaches Bill Blair and Jeff Bzdelik devilishly bought their troubled boss, Wes Unseld, a samurai sword as a pre-Christmas gift.
Unseld might have been tempted to use it last night as a motivational tool after the Detroit Pistons handed his Bullets a fourth straight loss, 105-94, before an announced Capital Centre sellout of 18,756.
The usually stoic coach, who has seldom criticized the effort of his injury-riddled team, openly questioned the commitment of some of his players for this atypical flat performance.
The return of leading scorer and playmaker Michael Adams failed to inspire the Bullets, who were pounded on the boards, 45-28. Dennis Rodman grabbed a season-high 21 rebounds for the Pistons (9-11), who had lost eight of their previous 11 games.
Detroit, which had been struggling offensively all season, shot 48 percent, using excellent ball movement in their half-court game to swing Joe Dumars loose for 32 points. More damaging were the contributions of Pistons reserves Orlando Woolridge (17 points) and recently activated Bob McCann, who made five of his seven shots.
"If we have to start double-teaming the Bob McCanns of the league, we're in big trouble," Unseld said, alluding to his weak interior defense.
But that was less disturbing than the rebounding disparity. The Bullets simply could not -- or, in Unseld's mind -- would not compete physically with the aggressive Pistons, who repeatedly converted offensive rebounds into baskets.
Unseld had a convenient alibi in the continued absence of Pervis Ellison, his leading rebounder, who missed his third straight game with a balky right knee.
"It's too easy to make excuses, and I'm not starting now," he said. "Sure, it doesn't help not having Ellison on a team that has been out-rebounded every night. But we have some people who profess to being tough but aren't. We're just playing too soft."
Veteran Charles Jones and second-year center Greg Foster played the bulk of the minutes in the middle, but combined for only five rebounds. Foster did manage to score a career-high 10 points.
Watching the Bullets being intimidated on the boards, the crowd began calling for Unseld to play Ralph Sampson, the recently signed 7-foot-4 center, in the fourth quarter. But Sampson, still trying to find his legs, did not leave the bench until the final three minutes when the Pistons were coasting, 102-87.
The Bullets had managed to maintain a measure of suspense for three quarters, largely due to a 16-5 start. But the Pistons rallied to take the lead after one quarter, and the Bullets' inability to generate a fast break and easy baskets quickly turned the game in Detroit's favor.
Adams, who had missed three of the last four games with a dislocated finger on his left hand, was slightly out of sync. He made only five of 19 shots, finishing the night with 15 points -- 10 below his average.
"I missed a lot of shots I usually make," Adams said. "I'm getting used to playing with a cast, and still getting the kinks out."
The Pistons got all the kinks out of their offense, giving coach Chuck Daly cause for optimism.
He benched William Bedford and returned Bill Laimbeer to his role as starting center. Laimbeer, who had suggested his earlier benching, made six of his eight shots.
"Bill and Isiah [Thomas] are the only players who have been with me all nine years," Daly said. "They've shown a lot of guys how to play the game. It's a real hard job."
An even tougher job faces Unseld in trying to maintain his team's confidence and commitment. Yesterday, he reactivated forward Tom Hammonds, who had missed the last eight games with a groin pull. Rookie guard LaBradford Smith (ankle) replaced Hammonds on the injured list.