CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Washington Bullets threw Charles Jones, Pervis Ellison and Mark Alarie at Armon Gilliam, one at a time and sometimes two at once. It made little difference.
He burned them all.
Gilliam hit 16 of 24 shots and finished with 39 points, one shy of the Charlotte Hornets' record and two under his career best, as he led the Hornets to a 120-105 victory last night before a capacity crowd of 23,901 at Charlotte Coliseum.
"I got in the rhythm," Gilliam said.
And, he got the Bullets.
Washington's backcourt could not prevent Gilliam from getting the ball down low, and its front line was unable to keep him from the basket. Gilliam either beat them off the dribble, spinning to the lane or just powered his way to the rim.
The Bullets had no chance against him last night. Their defense was overmatched.
And this was not Patrick Ewing or Akeem Olajuwon. It was Armon Gilliam. Of the Hornets.
"We doubled Armon a lot tonight, but he was getting the ball in so close that it didn't matter," Washington head coach Wes Unseld said. "He's got a lot of moves inside, so if he gets the ball that close, he is real tough to stop."
"Some days you go out and have a good first quarter and do nothing in the second," said Gilliam, who turned the ball over only two times despite being slapped all evening. "Tonight, all the quarters were good."
Gilliam, 6 feet 9, matched up well against Jones (6-9), Ellison (6-10) and Alarie (6-8), outweighing each of them by 20 pounds.
He scored 19 in the first half, pacing the Hornets (3-4) to a 64-55 lead.
The Bullets (2-4), behind Bernard King's 17 third-quarter points, tried to rally after intermission. They got within seven, eight times, but no closer. King finished with a team-high 34, followed by Harvey Grant's 27. Reserve guard Haywoode Workman added 14.
"We were hoping to cut the lead below 10 through the third quarter and early in the fourth to have a chance," King said, "but we were fighting an uphill battle the whole second half. And Armon had such a tremendous game, and they kept pushing the ball upcourt. They have new faces and players who can play."
The Hornets put the game away early in the fourth quarter. Gilliam's 18-footer with 8 minutes, 31 seconds left in the game pushed their lead to 14 and Washington could only battle within 104-96 on King's two free throws with 5:07 left. But Kenny Gattison came right back with a dunk and Charlotte kept the margin above eight the rest of the game.
When the Bullets tried to make a run, Del Curry seemed to respond every time with a clutch jumper. He had 10 of his 16 points in the final 12 minutes.
And when he was not hitting from the outside, Gilliam was controlling the inside.
"When a guy is on, it's hard to contain him," Ellison said. "He was getting to the middle which was what he wanted to do. Sometimes guys just have those type of games when everything falls for them."
Hornets coach Gene Littles said he was not aware that Gilliam was one shy of Kelly Tripucka's team-record 40 points. He took out his starting center with 49 seconds left. Charlotte scored four more before the game ended.
"Next time, when I know it's close, I'll throw it down to him," Littles said.
"Maybe next time against the Bullets. There isn't anyone on that team that can cover him one-on-one," Littles said.
"They're like us, not the biggest team in the league," he said, "and, we're stronger inside with Armon."