Arena clock ticking again for Bullets Washington seeks timely victory

March 07, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Computer experts say they have replaced the faulty part in the electrical system that has caused repeated breakdowns in the Baltimore Arena scoreboard and 24-second clock at previous Washington Bullets games.

So there should be no repeat of the problems in tonight's game here against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Correcting all the on-court problems of the Bullets (20-40) will prove significantly harder, but both general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld have seen some encouraging signs in recent weeks.

"We have players like Ledell Eackles, David Wingate and A.J. English who are trying to impress us while we make plans for the future," said Nash, "and all three have been making positive contributions."

Out of necessity, Unseld has been forced to employ a small lineup, with Eackles, a converted 6-foot-5 guard, filling the small forward spot. Unseld had no other alternatives after reserve forward Tom Hammonds was traded to Charlotte on Feb. 19 for guard Rex Chapman, and starting forward Harvey Grant was sidelined for five games with a strained right knee.

But Eackles, who has spent considerable time in Unseld's doghouse the past three years because of weight problems and defensive deficiencies, has proved a pleasant surprise.

The burly New Orleans native, nicknamed "The Big Easy" during his college career, will still not be mistaken for Dennis Rodman on defense. But he has kept his rival forwards occupied by averaging 20.7 points as a starter over the past 10 games. He has also proved an effective passer, averaging 4.3 assists.

"There never has been any question about Ledell being able to score," said Unseld, "but he has also become more serious about stopping his man. At least, the effort is there."

Added Nash: "Ledell uses his quickness to beat most small forwards on offense. But the negative side is that when he's starting, it compounds our rebounding problems against bigger teams."

Shooting guard has been a nagging problem since the departure of Jeff Malone in June 1990, but Unseld has recently received more production from the position than anticipated by alternating Wingate, English and rookie LaBradford Smith.

Wingate, best known for his defensive prowess, has become more aggressive in seeking his own shot and has averaged 12.6 points over the past five games, including 15 against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

"I encourage David to shoot the ball whenever he can get his shot in the normal flow of the game," Unseld said.

The streak-shooting English has lost some of his minutes to Smith, but along with Eackles, remains the Bullets' best one-on-one threat.

But perhaps the most positive development the past month has been the improved play of Smith, the team's No. 1 draft pick from Louisville.

A gifted athlete who lettered in four spots in high school, Smith is beginning to show signs of his NBA potential, averaging 8.2 points and making a number of dazzling passes in the past five games.

"With LaBradford, it's no secret why he is playing better now," said Nash. "He's first really in playing shape after missing all of training camp and the first few months of the season with his ankle injury. He's a physically strong guard, but he needs to keep his weight under 200 to have any quickness."

NOTES: Nash said yesterday that neither G Rex Chapman (strained arch) nor F Mark Alarie (knee) are expected back any time soon. "Rex isn't making any significant progress," Nash said. "If his foot doesn't respond to therapy in the next month, we will have to decide if surgery is required." If so, it will be right after the season ends. Alarie still reports soreness in his left knee, which underwent arthroscopic surgery last September. F Bernard King, who had a similar operation, has been scratched for the season.

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