Bullets' Unseld knows he's not alone Pistons' Rothstein offers condolences

December 28, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Detroit Pistons coach Ron Roth-stein was not about to retur the belated 99-97 Christmas present the Washington Bullets hand-delivered to his team Saturday night at the Baltimore Arena, but he did offer holiday condolences to Wes Unseld, whose Bullets (7-19) have lost nine straight.

"Hey, we'll take it and run with it," Rothstein said, "but I know just what Wes is going through. He's got one of the youngest teams in the league, and right now they're suffering some serious growing pains.

"I faced the same problems for three years with the Miami Heat," said Rothstein, who won 47 of 246 games with the expansion team from 1988 to 1991 before being replaced by Kevin Loughery.

"Now I've got a veteran team with smart, seasoned pros, like Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman. They know the game is 48 minutes long and find ways to win in the end," Rothstein said.

"Young, inexperienced teams usually find ways to lose close games."

That has certainly been the case with the Bullets, who blew two seven-point fourth-quarter leads in their most recent losses against the Chicago Bulls and Detroit, two defensive-minded teams who have won the past four NBA titles.

Most of the earlier losses were attributed to a lack of offensive execution when the Bullets, without a consistent outside shooter or an explosive one-on-one player, struggled to score in a half-court game.

Against Detroit, however, the Bullets' most productive quarter was the fourth, when they scored 26 points;in fact, twice in the last minute center Pervis Ellison made clutch baseline jump shots.

The problems Saturday night were the Bullets' defense and lack of toughness on the boards; the Pistons scored 34 points in the last quarter.

Every time Washington seemed to make a defensive stop in the closing minutes, Rodman or Dumars would sneak inside to grab an offensive rebound to keep their team alive.

After the game, Bullets captain Harvey Grant singled out Rex Chapman for not preventing Pistons reserve forward Terry Mills from converting a layup with 32 seconds left that led to a three-point play and a 91-91 tie.

Grant has posted impressive numbers in the past six games, averaging 25.5 points and shooting 56 percent from the field. But he has not been a factor down the stretch, scoring a total of three points in the fourth quarters of the past three games.

Unseld, preparing his team for tonight's game with the visiting Atlanta Hawks at the Capital Centre, said he was "unaware of any finger-pointing."

"If any of that stuff is going on," Unseld said, "I will handle it immediately."

Unseld is aware that outsiders perceive his team as lacking a combative nature, with the toughness of Chapman and Ellison, in particular, being questioned.

"Toughness has been a major concern of mine since Day One with this team," said Unseld, who thrived on his take-no-prisoners approach as an under-sized Bullets center.

His feistiest player is Michael Adams, a 5-foot-10 playmaker.

Rookies Tom Gugliotta and Doug Overton also have exhibited competitive spirit.

"The last two games, Pervis has started to play like he did last year," Unseld said of the center who was voted "most improved" last season. "At least, that's a positive sign."

But Chapman, who scored a career-high 37 points on 16-for-20 shooting against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 20, had trouble getting started against the Bulls and Pistons last week when matched against Michael Jordan and Dumars, two of the NBA's better all-purpose guards.

Unseld is considering giving more playing time to forward Larry Stewart, who has been effective as a reserve the past week.

In the Hawks (12-13), the Bullets face a team with a losing record for the first time since the losing streak began.

The Hawks are trying to remain competitive without their All-Star forward and scoring leader Dominique Wilkins, who is out four to six weeks with a fractured hand.

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