Ailing Bullets withstand Pacers' rally, 105-101 Washington wins with only 9 players

February 25, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- They say there is strength in numbers. But the Washington Bullets, reduced to nine able-bodied players, refuted that theory last night by surviving a late Indiana rally to beat the Pacers, 105-101, before 10,223 at the Capital Centre.

With Harvey Grant (calf) and Rex Chapman (ankle) sidelined and the Bullets choosing not to sign a guard to replace Doug Overton, who remains on the injured list following thumb surgery, it seriously limited coach Wes Unseld's rotation.

But four of his five starters -- Tom Gugliotta, Pervis Ellison, Michael Adams and LaBradford Smith -- delivered strong performances in combining for 88 points as Washington (16-37) stopped a six-game losing streak.

The Bullets, who had been on the road since Feb. 6, showed signs of fatigue in the last quarter. The Pacers (24-29), fighting for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, trimmed a nine-point deficit with 2:24 left to 103-101 when Schrempf (27 points) made a layup with 3.3 seconds remaining.

The Bullets have blown several games in similar situations this season, but this time Adams (24 points) iced it by converting two pressure free throws with 2.8 seconds left.

Although they beat a sub-.500 team, the Bullets would not quibble with the results, their first victory over the Pacers in the last five encounters.

Unseld could point to several encouraging developments. Gugliotta, who appeared to hit the rookie "wall" in struggling the past month, turned in one of his more complete efforts in contributing 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

It marked the first time since he scored 25 points against Charlotte on Jan. 30 that the lottery pick from N.C. State has scored more than 20.

"That was the most animated I've seen Tommy in a long time," said Unseld. "He played a complete game."

Said Gugliotta: "Everyone was more mentally prepared tonight because we knew we only had nine guys ready to play. You know you're going to get a lot of playing time.

"I just felt more confident shooting the ball," said Gugliotta, who admitted to "tired blood" on the exhaustive western swing. "I tried to make Schrempf work a little harder on the defensive end because he's such a gifted scorer."

Gugliotta's comeback was a plus, but Smith's inspired play was even more of a bonus. Given a chance to start in recent weeks because of the injuries to Overton and Chapman, the second-year guard from Louisville has been a model of inconsistency.

Every time the 6-foot-5 guard from Louisville flashes signs of justifying his first-round selection in 1991, he would suffer a relapse.

But last night Smith did the job on both ends of the floor, scoring 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting, and limiting Pacers scoring leader Reggie Miller to 19 points.

Asked why Smith has been so erratic, Unseld said, "It's not that the effort isn't there. It's just that some nights, he just doesn't get it done."

Said Smith: "Sure, I'd like to come out and play like this every night. Tonight, the guys were setting good picks for me and I was getting open shots. I'm just playing with a lot more confidence."

While the Bullets were savoring a rare February victory, Indiana coach Bob Hill was puzzled by his team's lack of intensity.

"We didn't start playing until the second half," he said. "I've got no clue to the reasons why. We just didn't do the job defensively, and we gave the Bullets too many free-throw attempts [22-for-25]."

Last year, the Pacers needed a strong second-half finish to gain the playoffs. But Hill believes the job will be tougher this season.

"We don't have as many offensive weapons this year," he said, noting the trade of high-scoring Chuck Person to Minnesota. "It's just a lot harder for us to score now. We don't have a real small forward, and we've got to work the ball inside a lot more.

"But I'm not going to over-emphasize this loss. We've got a homestand coming up. You've got to keep thinking positive."

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