The Washington Bullets have almost completely revamped their roster, and Coach Kevin Loughery is convinced that the club he has built around Moses Malone will eventually be a good one.
At the moment, however, the 6-10 Malone is in a shooting slump, and the Bullets appear to be disorganized.
The Bullets lost for the fifth time in six games Saturday night at Atlanta when Dominique Wilkins scored 26 points and led the unbeaten Hawks (5-0) to a 110-91 victory.
The Bullets, who have averaged only 87 points a game while losing three in a row, led, 52-50, at halftime. But they scored only 16 points in the third quarter and only 23 in the last 12 minutes.
A big reason was the cold shooting of the big man in the middle. Malone made 5 of 17 shots, this coming after Friday night's loss at Boston, where he was 4 for 17.
In addition to Malone, obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington has eight other players who were not with the team last season.
"It's hard to tell what's wrong at the moment, except that we are shooting poorly," Loughery said. "The players have to get to know each other. And the coaches have to learn their strengths and what the best (substitute) rotation is.
"We should have beaten the Celtics last night, but when you make only 33 of 87 shots, you don't usually win. Tonight, again, we had chances to win and we couldn't hit again."
In the game the Bullets won, a 102-101 victory at home over New Jersey, Moses Malone and Jeff Malone contributed a total of 58 points. But in the last two games they made only a combined 26 of 73 shots.
Meanwhile, the Hawks are hot. They won two games without Wilkins, last year's scoring champion, and remain the league's only unbeaten team.
Four of the wins have been at home. There will be a better line on Mike Fratello's team after it completes a four-game trip that begins Tuesday night at Chicago.
The Hawks broke it open midway through the third quarter. Cliff Levingston's jumper gave the Hawks a 66-64 lead, and they scored the next seven points to take command.
Chicago 101, Phoenix 96--Michael Jordan had another spectacular game, and the Bulls needed everything their star could contribute to outlast the Suns at Chicago.
Jordan scored 39 points, his season average, and made two free throws with 51 seconds left to give the Bulls the lead for good.
Much of the game was a shooting duel between Jordan and his close friend, Walter Davis of the Suns. Jordan was 17 for 27, while Davis, who scored 27 points, was 13 for 28.
"Walter is my idol," Jordan said. "Tonight I was able to outscore him, but it was the defense of (John) Paxson and (Elston) Turner, who picked up the slack for me when I needed it.
"I am still not a complete player, and my defense still has to improve."
Houston 102, Sacramento 90--Akeem Olajuwon scored 25 points, but it was his 21 rebounds and 4 blocked shots that keyed the Rockets' tough defense at Houston.
The Rockets, still without ailing Ralph Sampson, had a tough time with the stubborn Kings, who were without injured Reggie Theus.
The Rockets opened a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but the Kings kept fighting back and trailed by only five with five minutes left.
The Kings had 21 turnovers, and 11 of their shots were blocked.
Milwaukee 103, Detroit 89--Sidney Moncrief scored 7 of his 21 points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter at Milwaukee to break open a tight battle.
The Bucks led, 74-73, after three quarters, but Moncrief led the spurt that made it 89-80 with 6:20 left.
The late spurt by the Bucks was made possible because Isiah Thomas of the Pistons was ejected late in the third period for fighting with Dudley Bradley. At that point, Thomas had 26 points and 6 assists.
Thomas was ejected for taking a swing at Bradley after they exchanged words while Ricky Pierce was shooting a technical called against Coach Chuck Daly of the Pistons.
Indiana 130, San Antonio 97--Wayman Tisdale came off the bench to score 14 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter at Indianapolis and pace Indiana to an easy win.
Tisdale was a disappointment last season, but when he left this game with 5:30 remaining, the crowd of 14,365 gave him a standing ovation.
Seattle 105, New York 102--Xavier McDaniel and Tom Chambers each scored 20 points at Seattle to lead the SuperSonics to victory over the Knicks, who have lost five of their six games.