MILWAUKEE -- Forget that the Washington Bullets had lost seven straight games on the road going into last night. Forget their dismal road record and four-game losing streak. The Bullets last night were facing the Milwaukee Bucks, the kind of team they have to beat if they want to be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
"We were going against a team that was ready to be beaten," said Bullets guard Tim Legler.
But the fading Bullets were unable to get the job done as they lost to the Bucks, 109-98, at the Bradley Center.
So the Bullets (22-26) lost their fifth straight, and fell to the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, one full game behind the idle Charlotte Hornets and percentage points behind the Miami Heat, who won last night.
The five-game slide is the longest of the season, and Washington dropped to 6-19 away from home with its eighth straight road loss, It doesn't get easier for the Bullets, who play seven of the next 11 on the road, including a five-game West Coast trip.
"Nobody wants to get too far under .500," said forward Juwan Howard. "We want to stay within .500 when we come to March, where we have a lot of games at home."
The Bullets won't be able to do that if they remain a two-man show like last night, when Gheorghe Muresan scored 29 points (with 13 rebounds) and Howard 27. Calbert Cheaney did score 13 points, but most came after the outcome had been decided.
Milwaukee had a balanced attack with all five starters scoring in double figures, led by All-Star Vin Baker (25 points) and Glenn Robinson (23). The two combined to hit 18 of 31 shots, which helped the Bucks to 52.6 percent shooting for the game.
"Their field-goal percentage jumps out at me," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "They're good at getting the ball to Vin Baker and Glenn Robinson. The last two games, defensively, we haven't done enough."
It didn't help last night that the Bullets lost Rasheed Wallace, who sprained his ankle after scoring on a hook shot late in the second quarter. Wallace did not return, and his availability for tonight's game against the Indiana Pacers is unknown.
Wallace was averaging just 9.1 points and 4.0 rebounds going into the game, but he provides a big body defensively that the Bullets desperately need. With Wallace out, and Bob McCann and Cheaney running into foul trouble early in the third quarter, Howard had to move to power forward to defend Baker.
That left Ledell Eackles to guard Robinson. Or Mitchell Butler. Or Cheaney. Robinson scored 11 points in the third quarter, hitting four of five shots. Nine of those points came over the final six minutes, when the Bucks went on a 21-7 run that turned a six-point deficit to an 82-74 lead going into the final quarter.
All night Milwaukee ran double-teams at Howard every time he touched the ball, and took away the swing passes to the corner for the spot-up shooters. That often left McCann or Jim McIlvaine wide-open at the free-throw line -- good shots for not-so-good shooters.
"Defensively, they were able to block a lot of our offensive moves," Howard said. "When they took away our swing passes, that really hurt."