Home for break, Bullets wonder where cheer is Better on the road, club blames injuries

December 24, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

Under normal circumstances, an NBA team playing nine of its next 11 games at home would be brimming with optimism. But the Washington Bullets, enjoying a five-day holiday break, don't seem to know how to feel.

The most puzzling aspect of the team's 9-17 start has been its ability to win on the road and its losing habit at home.

"I don't know why we've struggled so much at home," said point guard Michael Adams, noting the 2-8 record at the Capital Centre, where the Bullets resume their schedule Friday night against the Houston Rockets before entertaining the Charlotte Hornets at the Baltimore Arena on Saturday night.

"On the road, we play real loose, like we have nothing to lose," Adams said. "Sooner or later, we have to start winning at home and gain the support of the fans."

By closing their swing through Texas and Denver with three straight victories, the Bullets improved their road record to 7-9. Only three teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers -- have won more road games this season.

The Bullets own the NBA's worst home record. Even the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves (4-20) have managed to win three games at home.

But this reversal of fortune is no mystery to the Bullets coaches.

"Basically, it's because we got healthy on this last road trip," said head coach Wes Unseld. "We've only had all our players together for six games, and five of those have been on the road."

Assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik has another theory.

"It's because [center] Pervis Ellison lives so far from the Capital Centre," he said. Ellison lives in Fort Washington in Prince George's County. "Every game for him is like a road trip," Bzdelik said. "When we're away, all he has to do is get on the team bus."

Ellison has prospered on the road. He was named the NBA's Player of the Week after averaging 23.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks during last week's four-game trip.

The 6-foot-10 Ellison, along with Adams and forward Harvey Grant, form the nucleus of the youthful Bullets. Together, they average more than 60 points, giving Washington one of the league's most effective threesomes.

All three have recovered from injuries: Adams a dislocated finger, Ellison a sore knee and Grant tendinitis in his leg and a sore lower back. But now all three are nearing peak form.

"Pervis is playing with great confidence now," said Bzdelik. "The success he's enjoyed this season has really helped him feel he can do it in a big-time way. Now he's always the last one to leave the floor before a game, trying to improve his game."

Bzdelik said the Bullets are improving as they get to know each other better.

"Remember, this is the first year Adams and Ellison have played together," he said. "They're beginning to feed off each other. You can see it in recent games, especially how they work the pick-and-roll."

With the Bullets' big three providing the bulk of the offense, there is less pressure on their supporting cast to perform.

"If we get close to 60 points out of Adams, Ellison and Grant, we only need to get 40 from the rest of the guys to reach 100 and give us a real good chance of winning," said general manager John Nash, on a college scouting trip to Las Vegas.

Unseld has received consistent efforts from rookie forward Larry Stewart of Coppin State, who contributed 38 points and 19 rebounds in the past two games, reserve guard A.J. English, who has regained his shooting touch, hitting 21 of his past 40 shots, and reserve forward Tom Hammonds, finally blossoming after two disappointing seasons.

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