BOWIE -- Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld, seeking to correct his team's sputtering starts and third-period letdowns on both ends of the floor, yesterday benched shooting guard Rex Chapman in favor of defensive-minded Buck Johnson.
Unseld shuffled his lineup in preparation for tonight's Capital Centre contest with the Phoenix Suns, who boast the NBA's best record (25-8) and one of the league's most dynamic players in forward Charles Barkley, coming off a one-game suspension.
"I'm just trying to find ways to get us off to better starts and avoid second-half breakdowns," Unseld said before yesterday's decision to release rehabilitating forward Bernard King.
In starting Johnson, Unseld hopes to keep the Suns' aggressive Dan Majerle from gaining easy access to the basket. Chapman's soft defense has been a sore point with the coaching staff all season.
The athletic guard could prove more useful as a sixth man off the bench, helping to avert the long scoring droughts that have marked the Bullets' play all season.
"We need a consistent scorer on our second unit," said starting forward Harvey Grant. "Last year, we had both A. J. English and Ledell Eackles coming off the bench, and we've missed that scoring lift this season."
Offensively, Johnson will swing with Grant, who can score outside. Johnson was averaging 11 minutes and 3.8 points.
"I'm just looking forward to getting some quality minutes," said Johnson, who was acquired as a free agent in September after playing six years in Houston.
"When you're playing as few minutes as I was, you're too conscious of trying to not mess up. The more you play, the more your confidence grows."
NOTES: Rod Thorn, the NBA's director of operations, said he will rule today on the fine amounts for centers Pervis Ellison of the Bullets and Rik Smits of Indiana, who staged a "rematch" in Indianapolis on Tuesday night. "Pervis swung and missed," said Thorn, "so there will be no suspension. . .
The Suns have a rising star in forward Richard Dumas, who missed all of last season on drug suspension. Dumas has been afforded starter's minutes by new head coach Paul Westphal and is averaging 14.3 points. . .
Barkley said that his $10,000 fine, plus the loss of $29,000 in game pay for abusing an official at Madison Square Garden on Monday, probably resulted from the incident taking place in New York. "Being in New York has something to do with everything," he said.