MacLean refuses to take last year's failure sitting down

Phil Jackman

November 18, 1993|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- Last season, his first in the NBA, Don MacLean averaged about 10 minutes of playing time in the games he participated in. There were 20 contests when he didn't even have to remove his warm-up duds.

To put it mildly, the all-time scoring leader at UCLA and in the Pacific-10 (think about that fact for a minute) was a disappointment.

"When he came in here," says Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who can be brutally frank on occasion, "Don had the attitude that everyone else was out there to get him the ball so he could shoot. It's not that way in the pros."

While, in retrospect, he doesn't totally accept the coach's assessment of his rookie season, arguing, "Remember, most of the time I was playing when games were either won or lost [mostly lost]," MacLean heeded the message anyway.

Last night, as the Bullets were squaring their record at 3-3 with a 117-104 victory over Milwaukee, the results of MacLean's off-season regimen were there for all (well, 6,817 anyway) to see.

MacLean put in about a week's worth of effort by last year's standards as he jammed 38 points into 41 minutes. The barrage moved him into the top spot in the team scoring department, but, as Unseld says, "We never delayed putting him in there for his offense.

TTC "What's good about the way Don's playing is the other things he's doing. Just as important as the points is the job he's been doing on his man defensively. He's setting picks. He's passing the ball. He's rebounding. He's doing all the things that allow him to stay on the court for 41 minutes."

Moved into the starting lineup a few games ago, MacLean's end-to-end play is going to make it extremely difficult for Unseld to move him back to a reserve role when Pervis Ellison, he of the bum knees, is due to return in a couple of weeks.

The guy was a one-man gang right from the outset against the Bucks, hitting all five shots from the field, five of six from the line and leading his club in rebounding as Washington hit the first stop up 32-26. By intermission, when the Bullets led 59-46, he still hadn't missed (7-for-7), and these weren't shots where a tall guy sticks his hand up above the basket and simply drops it in.

"I've always been competitive and gone hard, although some people looked at my demeanor on the court and maybe didn't think so," says MacLean. "And I've always worked on my game. When I don't get to play, like last year, that only fires me up."

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound California native won't detail what his off-season schedule consisted of, but he will admit many, many hours went into giving himself the best set of legs he has ever had.

"A lot of guys come to camp and tell you how hard they work and they end up being the same player they were before," says MacLean. "I didn't want to say anything. I just wanted to do the work, come in and play and have guys say, 'Boy, Don really worked over the summer.' "

Almost needless to say, that's what Don's mates have been saying since he started turning in solid all-around performances as soon as the regular season commenced.

Up by as much as 16 points early in the third period and still up by 11 with 8:55 remaining, the Bullets suddenly found their lead at a pair, 96-94, with five minutes to go. Last year, forget it, the club loses and Unseld's lamenting he doesn't have a "go-to guy" to rely on down the stretch.

"We knew they'd have a run, this game is a game of streaks," said the coach, who had the answer. During the next three minutes, the home team went on a 10-3 run as Rex Chapman resembled Peter Pan swooping in on the hoop for dunks from every direction. And now it was time for Gheorghe (pronounce it George-E) Muresan.

The assemblage gave the 7-7, 333-pound native of Transylvania/Romania a standing ovation. In less than a minute, he hit three of four foul shots and grabbed a rebound.

"I was happy to get into the game, but I could have played better defense," he said. And how. Milwaukee scored on two dunks as the big guy attempted to defend against Bucks from the top of the key to the baseline.

"Don't go measuring Don MacLean yet," cautioned Unseld. "He knows he can score, but he has to do the other things." Like ice down both knees afterward.

The Bullets play at Charlotte tomorrow night (TNT), then take on Miami at the Baltimore Arena on Saturday (7:30 p.m.)

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