Bullets hampered by lack of big shot to take big shots

December 21, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

After a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets, handing his Washington Bullets their sixth straight loss, coach Wes Unseld lamented his team's lack of a go-to guy when a game is on the line.

"It's a lot easier winning close games when you have a Michael Jordan, Karl Malone or Patrick Ewing to take the big shot," Unseld said. "We don't have that type player."

Unseld was asked if he could see someone on his present roster possi- bly filling that role in a few years.

"I really can't look that far into the future," Unseld said. "And I certainly don't know who'll be coaching the team then. Right now I'm not looking past Monday and our game with Cleveland."

The Bullets have not had a go-to player since forward Bernard King completed an All-Star season two years ago, slashing to the basket to average 28.4 points. King, following knee surgery, has not played in more than a year.

Fifth-year forward Harvey Grant has developed into a big-time scorer. He is averaging 21.0 points and has topped the 30-point mark three times, including a career-high 41 in the 126-117 loss to the Hornets.

Almost single-handedly, he kept the Bullets in contention through the first three quarters Saturday night. But Grant, who is basically a jump shooter, scored his final points on a three-point play with 6:17 left.

Down 118-114 with 72 seconds remaining, the Bullets, and rookie forward Tom Gugliotta in particular, forced up a number of low-percentage shots and committed costly turnovers, as the Hornets put the game away at the foul line.

Gugliotta, who was only 6-for-23 but scored 19 points, grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and could not be faulted for effort.

"I think I was trying to score when it wasn't really there for me," he said. "But we came out against Charlotte like we weren't dying to win. We need to play with fire every night."

And this remains Unseld's main concern, not the lack of a go-to guy.

He has been patient waiting for two of his key players -- center Pervis Ellison and shooting guard Rex Chapman -- to display consistency and competitive spark. But neither has given him cause to believe it will happen any time soon.

Ellison, who was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player last season, is averaging 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds, well below last season's 20.0 points and 11.2 rebounds.

missed four games with a sore knee, but has not used the injury as an excuse for his performance.

"Pervis is going through some problems now," said Unseld. "I don't want to make excuses for him, but obviously he's not 100 percent. But at least he's giving his best."

More mystifying is the continued ineffective play of Chapman, 25, who, after being obtained from Charlotte last February, was expected to become the Bullets' shooting guard of the future.

Using this line of reasoning, the Bullets did not make a strong pitch to re-sign A. J. English, a promising shooting guard now playing in Italy.

But Chapman has not lived up to the team's high expectations. The former Kentucky standout, who left college after his sophomore year to become an NBA lottery pick in 1988, appeared in only the final game for Washington last season after nursing a heel injury.

This season, slowed by leg cramps and back spasms, he is averaging 12.4 points -- almost four below his career mark.

When Chapman spent five games on the injured list last month, he was replaced by rookie Doug Overton, who has proved effective with Michael Adams in the backcourt.

But Unseld started Chapman against the Hornets on Saturday, and he failed to score in 12 minutes and picked up four quick fouls.

Chapman, a bouncy 6 feet 4, has the athletic ability to create his own shot and beat his man off the dribble. But he has not been attacking the basket this season, and Unseld's patience could be wearing thin.

@

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers

Site: Capital Centre, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV: None

Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)

Outlook: This game originally was scheduled for Jan. 18 but was switched when the Capital Centre was booked for a pre-presidential inaugural gala. The Bullets have lost six straight. Harvey Grant scored a career-high 41 Saturday against Charlotte to raise his season average to 21.0. Michael Adams has made 45 straight free throws. Cleveland has won five straight. Mark Price leads the Cavaliers in scoring (19.2) and assists (7.0). Larry Nance leads the Cavs in rebounding (9.2). Cleveland has won the past five meetings with Washington, including a 131-92 victory at home Nov. 10.

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