LANDOVER -- Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld has just about run out of ideas on how to end his team's losing streak, which reached six last night after the Milwaukee Bucks breezed to a 109-97 victory before a Capital Centre crowd of 7,213.
"I've tried to do everything different before a game," he said with a deep sigh. "I've changed my clothes, my prayers, and now I'm even driving 16 miles out of my way to try and change things."
Nothing works for Unseld and the injury-riddled Bullets, who dropped to 6-15 and are 2-7 at home, tying the Minnesota Timberwolves for the worst home record in the league. Players now even get hurt climbing out of bed, as starting forward Harvey Grant managed to do yesterday morning in straining his upper back.
Center Pervis Ellison tested his sore left knee before tip-off and then sat out for the fourth time in the past five games.
With two of the three top scorers on the bench and team leader Michael Adams still bothered by a dislocated finger on his left hand, the Bullets were not even a good test for the struggling Bucks (10-12), who had won only two of their previous 11 road games.
Milwaukee had been playing such uninspired ball that Del Harris was happy to relinquish the coaching reins Dec. 4 to Frank Hamblen and be content with running the front office.
Last night, it was difficult to say whether the Bucks, 2-3 under Hamblen, were that much better or the Bullets were that much worse.
"With Ellison and Grant out of their lineup, we concentrated on getting the ball inside, and it worked well for us," said Hamblen.
It certainly did for former Bullets center Moses Malone, trimmed-down at 36. Malone overpowered Bullets reserves Charles Jones and Greg Foster to score a game-high 24 points and grab 19 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Aggressive forward Larry Krystkowiak was almost as effective, hitting eight of 10 shots for 21 points. And Milwaukee guards Jay Humphries and Lester Conner ran a near-flawless offense to gain a commanding 91-71 lead with eight minutes left to play.
"Our second unit did an excellent job," said Hamblen, who paid his dues as an assistant NBA coach for 22 years. "When Conner was running the show, we kept padding our lead."
There was, of course, little to cheer about for Bullets supporters, except an encouraging 21-minute performance by Ralph Sampson.
For the first time since joining the team Nov. 19, the castoff center showed spring in his surgery-scarred legs. He grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds and scored six points, including two thundering dunks, before fouling out with three minutes left.
"I'm starting to feel good," said Sampson, who was released by the Sacramento Kings, who still must pay him $5 million over the next eight years to settle his contract. "Playing this long made me a little tired. I need to get my strength back, and I'll be working extra hard on conditioning on the road."
Forward Tom Hammonds, who now has a sore back to go with his pulled groin, provided 21 points starting in place of Grant, and A. J.English scored 22 off the bench. But the Bullets had difficulty mounting an offense against the Bucks' quick-handed guards, who combined for eight steals.
"They have veteran guards who do an excellent job cutting off the passing lanes," said English. "It's tough enough, but especially hard when we're playing them with less than our best."
The Bullets in their delicate condition got a vote of sympathy from Hamblen, but little from Malone, who seems to revel in beating up on his old teammates.
"I hadn't been around Moses before," said Hamblen, "but I'm amazed at his work ethic. No one on this team works harder. At 36, he's really a marvel."
There has been nothing marvelous about the slip-sliding Bullets, who now must look forward to entertaining the defending champion Chicago Bulls tomorrow night before an announced sellout.