LANDOVER -- It's too early in the season for must wins, but last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks was one the Washington Bullets badly needed. The Bucks were on a six-game losing streak, and the Bullets were looking to prove they can beat a struggling team.
It looked easy in the first half, when Washington opened leads of as many as 17 points. But Milwaukee staged a furious fourth-quarter rally, getting within two points with a little more than five minutes left. The comeback fell short, however, and Washington took a 117-104 victory before 6,817 at USAir Arena.
The win improved the Bullets to 3-3, the first time the team has been at or above .500 since Nov. 6, 1991.
Washington second-year forward Don MacLean, making his second consecutive start, scored a career-high 38 points, shooting 13-for-15 from the field and 12-for-15 from the foul line. MacLean, who had nine rebounds, hit his first nine shots and didn't miss until there was less than a minute left in the third quarter.
MacLean's previous career high was 24 points against the Boston Celtics last November.
The Bullets had an 83-75 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Bucks used an aggressive defense to cut it to 96-94 after a dunk by Todd Day with 5:07 remaining.
But Rex Chapman helped get the Bullets back on track and put the game away, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the final four minutes.
Eric Murdock scored 22 points for the Bucks, winless since opening the season with a victory in Cleveland. Blue Edwards and Day each added 21.
The Bucks were without center Frank Brickowski, who was placed on the injured list Tuesday, so the Bullets went to their inside game early. The move paid off, as the frontcourt of MacLean, Tom Gugliotta and Kevin Duckworth scored all the points as Washington took a 14-4 lead.
Day's dunk and a three-pointer by Brad Lohaus cut the margin to 14-9, but Calbert Cheaney -- who entered at shooting guard after Chapman picked up two early fouls -- scored two baskets during a 6-0 run that gave the Bullets their biggest first-quarter lead, 21-9.
The quarter belonged to MacLean, who was 5-for-5 and had 15 points, but the Bucks were able to rally, as Murdock hit a jumper and Vin Baker scored on a tip-in in the final minute to cut the Bullets' lead to 32-26.
The small Bullets lineup that featured Gugliotta at center and Kenny Walker at power forward started the second quarter and immediately paid dividends with a 6-0 run that after a layup by Doug Overton gave Washington a 38-26 lead.
Back-to-back jumpers by Edwards cut the lead to 38-30, but Washington responded with a 10-2 run for a 48-32 lead.
Washington, which shot 51.2 percent in the first half, led by as many as 17 after Overton's jumper with 2:39 left and had a 59-46 lead at intermission. The Bucks, who shot just 34.7 percent in the half, kept from being completely blown out with a 25-19 rebounding advantage, including 13 on the offensive end.
The Bucks, shooting 42.5 percent before last night, got hot in the third quarter, hitting seven of their first eight shots. Day was hot -- in particular, hitting his first four shots after a 2-for-9 first half. After a jumper by Lee Mayberry with 5:37 left, Milwaukee had climbed within 72-67.
Unseld again went to his bench, re-inserting Butler and Walker. With the two providing the necessary defensive help, the Bullets were able to slow the Bucks and take an 83-75 lead into the final quarter.