LANDOVER -- For a brief moment last night, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld tried to keep his team's surprising 119-85 rout of the Detroit Pistons in perspective.
"We caught them at a good time. I wouldn't put too much into this except to say that I enjoyed the hell out of it," said the usually stoic coach, who then emitted an ear-piercing "Ya-hoo!"
For the record, the 34-point spread was the Bullets' biggest margin of victory since they ripped the Cleveland Cavaliers, 138-103, here March 9, 1981, when Unseld was still in uniform.
Unseld has had few chances to celebrate this season, in which his injury-riddled Bullets quickly established themselves as a lottery-bound team. But this was one of those inexplicable games with which NBA commissioner David Stern could vouch for the integrity of the league.
The Pistons are fighting the Boston Celtics for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and the home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Bullets would be best served by losing most of their remaining games to be able to place more pingpong balls in the lottery hopper May 17.
The Bullets, losers of eight of the past nine games, had a ready-made alibi with center Pervis Ellison, their leading scorer and rebounder, sitting out his third straight game with a groin pull. But Ellison was hardly missed, as Washington shot 63 percent in the first half and rolled to 60-39 halftime lead.
During one timeout, a happy fan in the sellout crowd of 18,756 yelled at former Bullets guard Darrell Walker, "Hey, Darrell, you're still losing in Washington."
It only got more embarrassing for the Pistons, who were being hailed as a dynasty only two years ago.
Ledell Eackles, with a game-high 29 points, continued his strong offensive play since becoming the starting small forward. Michael Adams needed only 24 minutes to produce 21 points, 17 in the first quarter, and Harvey Grant added 22.
"That's about as bad a beating as I can remember since I've been here," said Chuck Daly, in his ninth season as Pistons coach.
"We couldn't control Eackles and Adams in the first half. "I have no idea why we played so poorly. We're just not making any [defensive] stops."
The Pistons looked like anything but playoff contenders in losing for the seventh time in their past nine games after a five-game winning streak on the West Coast. Their two All-Star guards, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, who carry the brunt of the offense, shot a combined 6-for-24 from the field, with Dumars making one of 11.
And small forward Dennis Rodman, who leads the league in rebounding (19 per game), was limited to 10 in an uninspired effort.
"I just tried to keep a body on him every time a shot went up. And when Rodman jumped, I just kind of shoved him a bit," said Eackles, who tied a career mark with eight rebounds.
Thomas, the Pistons captain and floor leader, tried to explain this unlikely whipping by a non-contender, suggesting that unity no longer exists among the one-time "Bad Boys."
"There is no hatred, but no genuine love, either," said Thomas.
NOTES: The Bullets received more negative news on the progress of former All-Star F Bernard King, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last September. King has made slow progress with his rehabilitation, and his physician, Dr. Norman Scott, has recommended that King discontinue his therapy until July. This means that it is extremely unlikely King, who has another year remaining on his contract, would be ready to join the team in training camp next fall. "Frankly, I'm not counting on him," said general manager John Nash. "But with Bernard, you can never rule it [a comeback] out."