Despite all the bad ball and badmouthing, Unseld could still say after last week's loss to Cleveland, "Maybe we'll surprise ourselves." And they did at home two nights later, when New Jersey easily beat them 98-87. "We haven't given up on ourselves," Grevey said after that defeat, which was something of a new low, even for these Bullets. "We're just going to try to make the playoffs and salvage the season." Added Hayes, "I know we'll be in the playoffs. That's when the floor seems to shorten itself and the teams without all our experience begin to tighten up. That's when we'll be loose."
Possibly looser than he knows. If the playoffs had begun last Sunday, Washington, which broke a six-game losing streak—its longest in 12 years—Friday night in Boston, wouldn't have made it.
It has been such a thoroughly dismal season for the Bullets that they have been unable to do the one thing that almost any NBA team can—be dominant at home. A win over Golden State last Sunday left them just 13-12 in the Capital Centre, with a seven-game road trip stretched over 10 days on the horizon following the All-Star break. Such arduous treks are usually regarded with fear and loathing in the NBA, but these days the Bullets seem to consider them a blessing. After what one player describes as "vicious booing" during home losses to Phoenix and Denver, the Bullets have begun to dread playing at home. "Our fans are spoiled. They're used to winners," says Grevey.
So, evidently, are Washington's opponents. "Teams still get ready to play us as if we are one of the premier teams in the league," says Motta. "In the old days we used to go out and just play ball. Now they find a weakness, and they go after it like a bunch of sharks."
More and more the sharks are circling around the former champions, each waiting its turn to bite the Bullets.