If there was a thread to the Sixers' 110-98 loss to the Washington Bullets, it was that there was no thread.
No continuity. Not enough familiarity. Nowhere near the precision a good team instinctively feels on its home court.
And when the dominoes fell, they fell quickly. First, Cliff Robinson hobbled off in the first two minutes with a strain of the lower back. Gminski missed his first four shots from the floor and finished 3-for-12. Charles Barkley shot 6-for-19.
"I played terrible, we all played terrible," Barkley said. "I probably played worse than anybody."
Barkley, though, is not one to search for deep-rooted reasons or turning points. The Sixers lost at the Spectrum for the first time in seven games, lost the first of three consecutive games against the Bullets, and he knew exactly why.
"It had to do with bad performances, nothing else," he said after finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds. "We put ourselves in a hole. Now we've got to win the next two (Sunday and Monday in Landover, Md.). We've got to win Sunday, then take it from there."
Barkley was not at all interested that the Sixers own the Bullets' first- round draft choice next June, or that management has perceived the Bullets as a potential lottery team. He was interested in seeing his own team as something more than just another .500 bunch, which is what it is right now, stuck at 18-18.
"We just stunk any way you look at it," Barkley said. "It's a matter of not executing, not doing your job."
That the job had not been getting done consistently was a major reason the Sixers dealt Roy Hinson and Tim McCormick to the Nets last Saturday night for Gminski and Ben Coleman. But if they were looking for instant gratification, they would come away empty.
Gminski had 10 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in 34 minutes as the starting center. Coleman had 2 points and 1 rebound in 12 minutes off the bench. And the Bullets, who have a guy 7-6 (Manute Bol) and a guy 5-3 (Tyrone Bogues), also shuttled in a whole lot of other guys in between.
Moses Malone, for example, clamored around in the paint and managed 22 points and 12 rebounds. Later, he came laughingly into the Sixers' locker room saying "Where's Harold (Sixers owner Harold Katz)? Where's my buddy Harold?"
In truth, they are buddies away from the court. But that did not stop Katz
from trading Malone when he perceived the 6-10 center's skills to be slipping. Moses did not dominate last night, but, then, he did not have to. John Williams came hulking off the bench to score 20 points, Jeff Malone scored 19, ex-Sixer Terry Catledge contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds and Frank Johnson scored 12.
But the Bullets, coach Wes Unseld insisted, were not reacting to taunts of being lottery quality.
"We didn't pay any attention to that stuff; we've heard it for years," Unseld said. "When you're down in the loss column, the emphasis isn't on any particular game, it's on every game. We have to come to play hard every night if we're going to make up the ground. I know that sounds old and cliche-ish, but that's what it is."
Gminski found it a disjointed experience, scuffling to try and win with his new team, trying to adjust, trying to contribute at both ends.
"Never having been traded before, I had no feel for what I might go through in my first game," he said. "You can hear about it, but you can't have a real perspective until it happens.
"And now that it has, it's not something I can really put into words. It's just that, things that came naturally, reactions that came naturally, are suddenly foreign to you. I had played with a core of guys in New Jersey; I knew them, knew what was coming, where they would be, and they knew me. I obviously don't have that here yet. If there was anything I did pick up tonight, it was the realization of how hard it could be to get it back."
Don't damn the trade yet, though. Gminski is a worker, with a history of success. "He always played well for us," said ex-Nets coach Dave Wohl, now scouting for the expansion Miami Heat. "He could do even more for this team."
Coleman is a 6-9, mobile body, but still moving cautiously on a tender ankle. And when Robinson, who hurt himself in Monday's practice, left prematurely, the Sixers' offense never really properly shifted gears. Even when they led by as many as 11 in the third quarter, they never seemed in that sort of control.
"What I saw was that the Bullets played hard right from the beginning," Sixers guard Gerald Henderson said. "They played good defense, and when we got a little careless with the ball, they turned our mistakes into easy baskets. I remember going back into the game in the fourth quarter, looking up at the scoreboard and seeing we were down 10. I said, 'Gee, I thought we were up a few.' "
They were up 11 after 1:11 of the third quarter, down 11 after 3:52 of the fourth.
"For whatever reason, we had some defensive breakdowns, some glaring ones," Sixers coach Matt Guokas said. "We didn't handle the ball as we should have, and when you make mistakes like that, when you go cold (shooting), all of a sudden you're looking at a 10-point deficit."
Now the Sixers face two more against the same, familiar opponent.
That doesn't require an adjustment as much a sense of reality.
"It is," Henderson said, heading out the door, "going to be hell down there."