LANDOVER -- The word around the NBA is that it generally takes a newcomer to the league -- save for the elite -- about two seasons to blossom.
The early words on the Miami Heat's Glen Rice were "slowly developing," in large part because the 6-foot-8 forward wasn't scoring the way he had during Michigan's push to the national championship in 1989.
But almost halfway through his third season in the league, Rice is starting to realize some of the expectations that came with being the most valuable player in the 1989 Final Four.
Last night, the Washington Bullets got a good look at Rice's improvement, as he scored 35 points -- 21 in the second half -- to lead Miami to a 102-94 win before 6,522 at the Capital Centre.
"My confidence is high right now, and so is the rest of our team, and I think that is the reason for our recent success," said Rice.
Rice, the fourth player chosen in the 1989 draft, averaged 13.6 and 17.4 points in his first two seasons. Though his shooting has dipped from last season's 47 percent to 45, Rice apparently has grown more confident with his shot, and is averaging 19.8 points.
He credits center Rony Seikaly for giving him more space to shoot and easier opportunities to score.
"I am working on going to the hoop more, and Rony is clearing the way for me and helping me drive," said Rice.
"He's going to the basket more and creating his own shots," said Miami coach Kevin Loughery.
Rice had 31 points in Miami's 134-115 win over the MilwaukeBucks on Wednesday, and, last night, he hit 12 of 17 attempts, including a three-pointer with 1 minute, 20 seconds left that sealed the win.
"He got a lot of good shots," said Washington guard MichaeAdams. "You can't let him stand still and shoot."
The Bullets' Harvey Grant scored 28, but spent a good part of the evening watching Rice launch long jumpers.
"I have nights like that, too," said Grant. "I guess it was just Glen's night."
Washington coach Wes Unseld said, "He shot the ball real well, sometimes with good defense and sometimes not."
CIf the Bullets (14-22) had played a bit more consistently on either end of the floor, they might have stopped the improving Heat (17-21), who would grab the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot over the Philadelphia 76ers if the season ended now.
"We just didn't come out ready to play," said Adams, who had 10 points on a 4-for-14 shooting performance. "They played hard, and we didn't do the job."
Adams wasn't the only guard to struggle. A. J. English, off a season-high 27 points against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night, had 12 points, shooting 5-for-15 from the field.
"We weren't flat. We played pretty good. We held them to 102 points. We just couldn't put them on the board," said Unseld.
"What we have to do is rotate the ball to an open man," said Adams. "A lot of times, we were stagnant and couldn't get an open shot."
The Bullets left a number of Heat players open for shots, and though both teams shot just 45 percent, Miami seemed to make its shots at the right moment, as all five starters scored in double figures.
Seikaly had 20 rebounds, including eight offensive.
"He's an aggressive player and he played well," said the Bullets' Pervis Ellison, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds. "He rebounded well, and they were able to get the ball out and run on the break."