WASHINGTON — For 58 across they were looking for a seven-letter word, and the clue was: "glub, glub, glub." The sound you might make if you were drowning.
I wrote in: "Bullets."
We could quibble about semantics here. Some of you might think that at 3-8, the Bullets are off to a "slow" start. Others might call it a "rocky" start, an "uncertain" start or a "tentative" start.
My sense is that Gen. Custer got off to a "bad" start. I'd peg the Bullets' start vaguely between the Washington Federals and "I Married Dora." A mechanic might say the Bullets weren't quite up to speed, like the first few seconds of Evel Knievel's Snake River Canyon jump. I hope somebody remembered to pack the parachutes.
The Bullets are shooting 40.9%. Talk about inappropriate nicknames. Someone ought to tell them that the object is to shoot the ball in the basket, not just near it. They are the worst shooting team in the NBA. The Washington Capitals shoot better than the Bullets, and the Capitals haven't scored a goal in November.
Not only can't they shoot, they can't rebound, either. They're next to last in the league: 23rd in shooting, 22nd in rebounding. At that pace it's hard to see them winning 60 games. That's usually a deadly combination-no points and no boards. No wonder they're always down by 20 points after the first quarter. You watch on TV and it's like every game is a re-run of the Detroit playoff series. You sit there wondering if anyone in a Bullets uniform has a pulse.
The other day, in what Bullet Watchers declared the season's first official vote of confidence for Bob Ferry and Kevin Loughery, Abe Pollin said, "We have the talent, the desire, the coaching, and an owner who's nutty enough to be an optimist."
Luckily for the Bullets, the schedule has actually been in their favor. The season isn't even a month old, and they've already played the three worst teams in the league. I don't know about you, but I was shocked CBS didn't preempt its regular programming to go nationwide with the Bullets and L.A. Clippers. All my friends were hyperventilating over that one. (Memo to Kevin: Congratulations on the Clippers game, but keeping $2.2-million worth of Moses on the pine 30 minutes a game may not be a cost-effective strategy in the long term.)
We're often reminded we shouldn't judge the Bullets harshly so early in the season, because so many played somewhere else last season, and they hardly know each other, and they're unfamiliar with the system, and let's see, they've come from Alabama with a banjo on their knee. But since when do you have to be bosom buddies to hit an open jump shot? You could drop Kiki Vandeweghe from the moon, surround him with hostile paranoids, and he'd still shoot 50%. Only once in 11 games have the Bullets topped 50 percent; they've been under 40% four times. While shooting 34.8 against the moribund Knicks, they needed an NBA record number of foul shots to win.
The Bullets were supposed to be better this season because of Bernard King. Theoretically, in King, Moses and Jeff Malone, the Bullets had a collection of players who could score from every position on the court. King is a career 53.8% shooter; Moses Malone, 50.0; Jeff Malone, 47.9. They are All-Stars, and they're here to score. More than half of all the Bullets' shots are theirs. And so far they're hitting 41.6%. That's not just bad, that's evil.
As desperate for scoring as the Bullets are, they can no longer afford the luxurious experiment of starting Muggsy Bogues. In the last six games, playing 121 minutes, Bogues has scored 16 points. Other small point guards, notably Mo Cheeks and Isiah Thomas, can get 16 points in a period. Bogues hasn't proven he can get his shots in the NBA, and the Bullets need someone who can.
There isn't enough space left to discuss the wisdom of using the 12th pick in the draft on Bogues. But it appears that even on a small, slow team like the Bullets, Bogues can become a valuable 20-minute player--if Loughery can find the right 20 minutes. Those minutes are more likely to come from the center of the game than the edges. Meanwhile, Frank Johnson should be starting. In the last six games he's been more productive than Bogues--in his 105 minutes he scored 54 points. Granted, he's probably going to break his foot again; the brittle Johnson is to the Bullets what Kelvin Bryant is to the Redskins. But what should you save him for, the cover of the Journal of the AMA?
The Bullets ought to hire a shooting consultant. I say the Bullets should bring Elvin Hayes to practice to help with shooting, and get Wes Unseld on the floor demonstrating how to block out for rebounds. We can all close our eyes and pretend it's 1977.