Bulls close down Bullets in 99-92 win

January 08, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- This may be the post-Jordan era, but the Chicago Bulls still are picking on the Washington Bullets like neighborhood bullies.

With the veteran trio of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and B. J. Armstrong doing most of the damage, the Bulls last night beat the Bullets for the 12th straight time, 99-92, before 17,133 at USAir Arena.

Pippen, who has taken over the leadership role since Michael Jordan's sudden retirement, scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The forward also scored the basket to put Chicago ahead to stay with 1:50 left after a jumper by Rex Chapman had tied it at 92.

Grant (19 points, 15 rebounds) stretched the lead to 96-92 by converting an offensive rebound, then stole the ball from Tom Gugliotta to end all chances of a Bullets comeback.

Armstrong chipped in with 18 points and the Bulls got a boost off the bench from Steve Kerr, who made seven of 10 shots for 14 points. Chapman led the last-place Bullets (9-21) with 27 points. Gugliotta contributed 14 points and 16 rebounds, but the Bulls enjoyed a 47-38 edge on the boards.

With or without the legendary Jordan, the Bulls (20-10) have displayed the ability to win games in crunch time, and last night was a fine example, as they held the Bullets scoreless in the final two minutes.

Pippen, who has become Chicago's leader, always seemed to be in the middle of things, making a pivotal basket, steal or pass. At different times in the closely played game, he filled every position but center.

"We just couldn't stop Pippen," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said.

Everyone has been waiting and watching to see if Pippen was ready to point the way to a fourth straight title after playing in Jordan's shadow for seven seasons.

"It's just great for me to show people I'm a leader," Pippen said. "I know I'm not an overrated player and I think I'm deserving of all the awards I've received. And I can make the other guys better, too."

L Kerr, who was picked up as a free agent, was quick to agree.

"Scottie doesn't get enough respect for his unselfishness," said Kerr, a six-year journeyman. "Both me and B. J. put the ball in his hands and he finds ways to get us shots. I'm getting more open shots now than any time in my career."

If Pippen wasn't tormenting the Bullets, it was Grant, who often took exception to being called part of Jordan's "supporting cast."

Grant consistently beat Kevin Duckworth and Pervis Ellison to position on the boards.

"They don't run a lot of plays for him," said Gugliotta. "Horace knows a lot of his points are going to come by hitting the offensive boards, and he does a great job of positioning and timing his jump."

The experience factor had a lot to do with Chicago's victory. The Bulls have been running Tex Winter's intricate "Triangle" offense for so long, they can almost do it in their sleep.

Down the stretch, Grant set jarring picks to free up Pippen, Kerr and Croatian star Toni Kukoc.

"It was a case of conversion and execution at the end," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "We made some big shots off their turnovers in the last few minutes, and Kerr came up with two critical loose balls. But the big thing is that guys like Pippen, Grant and Armstrong have been in games like this so often in the past."

Conversely, the Bullets adhered to their disturbing habit of turning the ball over and failing to get off high-percentage shots late in close games.

"This was definitely a winnable game," said Gugliotta. "I think we're trying to build on good losses. But I'm sick of losing games."

Early in the game, the Bullets capitalized on excellent ball movement and effective pick-and-roll plays to get a number of layups. But with the game on the line, those shots no longer were available."

"Give Coach Jackson credit for that," said Johnny Bach, the Bulls' defensive guru.

"Phil and Wes Unseld were both tough-minded players in their day,and Phil demands his guys play that way. In the last few minutes, he told them to go out and use their bodies.

"And we made some big steals and blocks to put it away."

Said Unseld: "The Bulls have great quickness. They extend you out so far on the floor, it's hard to execute your offense. They really make you work for every bucket down the stretch."

NOTES: Bulls GM Jerry Krause ruled out any possibility of Jordan returning. "We were together for eight years, and when Michael said he's retiring, I believe it," he said. . . . Krause noted that none of the players on the Bulls' current second unit -- Kukoc, Kerr, Wennington, Dave Johnson and Corie Blount -- were with the team a year ago. "With this team, I sit back and watch. I'm still just learning about them," he said. . . . Because of the icy road conditions, the Bullets offered to exchange unused tickets for last night's game for the Houston game Thursday.

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