Last week, after his New Jersey Nets had lost their second straight game to Washington, coach Bill Fitch was likening the Bullets to the soaring Cleveland Cavaliers.
His remarks appeared a bit far-fetched. The Cavaliers bring a 22-9 record and a league-high nine-game winning streak to the Capital Centre for their first meeting of the season with the
Bullets (12-19), who are struggling to stay in playoff contention.
Buoyed by the return of point guard Mark Price, the maturity o center Brad Daugherty and the additions of guards John Battle and rookie Terrell Brandon, the Cavaliers have taken their place among the NBA elite.
There are no more sick jokes about a team once labeled th Cleveland Cadavers that managed to go 71-180 from 1980 through 1983, with players and coaches coming and going in revolving-door fashion and 300-pound centers like Mel Turpin masquerading as professionals.
Now the Cavaliers earn only respect. After a 110-103 pasting by Cleveland at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Knicks coach Pat Riley sounded impressed.
"The Cavaliers would probably be right up there with Chicago i the Central Division, if Price hadn't missed five games at the start of the season," Riley said. "He's the most productive guard in the league.
"The other thing that impresses me about them is their size They're an excellent shot-blocking team with Daugherty, [Larry] Nance and [John] Williams on their front line. But they're also a very smart team. They run a lot of pick-and-rolls and use four or five different options on the same play. You stop the first two, and that's when they're really looking to attack."
After suffering through two years of injuries to key players similar to what the Bullets are experiencing this season, the Cavaliers appear ready to make a run at the Bulls' supremacy in the East.
YM All the pieces are in place, especially with Price back running the offense after missing the final 64 games last season following surgery on his left knee.
"We're just better when he's out there," said Nance. "The tea relaxes when he's in charge."
It also wins. Without Price in the lineup, the Cavaliers have gon ++ 28-54. With him, they're 69-44.
There was concern whether Price would play again when he tore
ligaments in his left knee last November.
"When they removed the cast, my left leg looked like a noodle, he told the Akron Beacon Journal. "It was white, withered and tiny, about half the size of my right leg."
Team doctors said at the time that they predicted optimisticall he would play again in January 1992. But he beat their forecast by two months.
Price's outside shooting and penetration opens the inside for
Daugherty, who is enjoying an All-Star-type season, averaging 22.2 points and 10.0 rebounds.
"Brad has taken his game to another level," said Cavaliers coac Lenny Wilkens. "He's always been an excellent offensive player and a terrific passer. But now he's protecting the basket, helping out on defense and blocking shots. What more could a coach ask of him?"
NOTE: It appears Ralph Sampson may not be going to Spai after all. His agent, Mike Higgins, said the 7-4 center, who was waived by the Bullets on Tuesday, still prefers playing in the NBA and is not committed to playing in Spain. But Sampson went unclaimed and may now have to explore his options in Europe.
Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Site: Capital Centre, Landover, 7:30
Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)
Outlook: After losing to the Eastern Conference's best in Chicago on Tuesday night, the Bullets must play the second best, the Cavaliers, who have won 9 straight and 18 of their past 22. C Brad Daugherty leads Cleveland in scoring average (22.2) and rebounding average (10.0). G Mark Price, recovered from knee surgery, is averaging 14.1 points and 7.2 assists. F Larry Nance ranks fourth in the NBA in blocked shots (3.2). The Bullets are 4-10 at home. Only Orlando and Minnesota have won as few at home. Bullets C Pervis Ellison, running second in All-Star balloting, is averaging 20.3 points and 11.9 rebounds. In the past 5 games, reserve G A. J. English has averaged 12.4 points.