LANDOVER -- The Dallas Mavericks boast of having the National Basketball Association's best backcourt trio -- Derek Harper, Rolando Blackman and Fat Lever. But they would get a strong argument from the Milwaukee Bucks' veteran threesome of Alvin Robertson, Jay Humphries and Ricky Pierce.
"I like the Bucks guys better," said Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld.
Unseld should know. Pierce (25), Humphries (24) and Robertson (21) scored 70 points against his team, as the Bucks (4-1) rolled to their fourth straight victory, 108-100, at the Capital Centre last night.
Pierce, who was voted the NBA's best sixth man last season, was particularly bothersome. After the Bullets, behind Bernard King's 34 points, had rallied from 11 points down to trail, 94-93, with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left, Pierce took the game over.
The ninth-year pro scored seven of the Bucks' next nine points to boost the lead to 103-93 with 1:40 remaining. The Bullets (1-3) made one last run, closing to 104-100 on Mark Alarie's three-point shot. But Robertson and Pierce each hit a pair of free throws to put it away.
Asked if he and his backcourt mates were incensed by all the pre- season publicity afforded the Mavericks guards, Robertson said: "Let the magazine guys write what they want now. But they should hold their judgment to the end of the season."
Unseld did not have to wait. "Their guards just took advantage of our inexperience," he said. "They took my guys to school."
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bucks, who have a revamped frontcourt. Jack Sikma still is posting up, but Del Harris relies heavily on newcomers Frank Brickowski (14 points, six rebounds) and Danny Schayes (seven points, five rebounds).
"We were picked next to last in the Central Division in almost every preseason poll," he said. "Not much is really expected of us. But we have a nice veteran nucleus, and we showed again jTC tonight that we're capable of executing well down the stretch, either getting good shots or going to the foul line."
It was at the foul line, in particular, where the Bucks capitalized, making 27 of 31 free throws. The Bullets converted only 21 of 32.
"These things are indicative of a young team," said Unseld, who has six new players on his roster while awaiting the return of recuperating John Williams and holdout Ledell Eackles.
"But the biggest thing is that defenses tighten up on certain individuals in the fourth quarter," Unseld said, referring to King, who scored 30 or more for the third straight game. "We don't have anyone else to take up the slack, and that's no secret."
Point guard Darrell Walker tried his best to relieve the pressure on King, scoring a season-high 21 points to go with nine rebounds. Rookie shooting guard A.J. English scored 14, but that wasn't enough to offset the Bucks' potent backcourt.
"I know Pierce comes off the bench shooting and warned my guys, but it didn't help," Unseld said.
Said Pierce, who scored 14 of his 25 in the last quarter: "That is why they call me the cleanup man. I'm the guy my teammates look for down the stretch. We were patient and got together three options we could go to in the closing minutes, and we worked ourselves free for shots."
The Bucks, who use their inside brawn and quickness out front to press and trap, played like the experienced team they are. The Bullets, on the other hand, still are experiencing growing pains.
"In the middle of the season, things should start falling our way. So far, we've been in every game, but we don't have much to show for it." Unseld said.
The Bullets, as they did the night before in New York, started fast and ended slow. They jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first three minutes, with King accounting for seven of the points.
"It was like we missed our wake-up call," Harris said, jokingly.
But the Bucks ran off 10 straight points and capitalized on a scrambling defense to force the Bullets into repeated turnovers.
By halftime, they led, 58-48, with Humphries scoring 20 points on for-10 shooting. The Bullets became more aggressive at both ends of the floor and tied the score at 80 early in the fourth quarter. But they were outgunned by Pierce down the stretch.
"The critics treat us lightly," Robertson said. "But we always find a way to win."