Bullets go to glass to shatter Rockets

January 14, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- All season the Washington Bullets have earned their label as a jump-shooting team, preferring to launch shots from the perimeter rather than drive to the basket. But last night against the Houston Rockets -- with the league's second-best record and second-leading shot blocker -- the Bullets decided to take it inside.

Don MacLean (30 points), Mitchell Butler (16 points, 8-for-8) and even much-maligned center Kevin Duckworth (nine points) took it to Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon. And the strategy worked, the Bullets shocking the Rockets, 120-102, before 16,024 at the USAir Arena.

"I can't sit here and claim responsibility," said coach Wes Unseld, whose last-place Bullets (11-22) scored a season high. "It was just one of those nights where it worked for us. This team is going to have to struggle all year long. [Last night] we were on all 12 cylinders."

And the only cylinder churning for Houston was Olajuwon, who scored 45 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Forward Otis Thorpe scored 16 points, but the three other Houston starters totaled 10.

But the real story was how the Bullets took the ball right at Olajuwon, who had Houston's only block.

"When you play passive and don't take it right at them, it takes you out of your game," Butler said. "We wanted to take it right at them and shove it down their throats."

Washington outscored Houston 42-34 in the paint last night. Olajuwon and his teammates seemed a step slow, which could be due to the Rockets playing the third of four road games this week.

"We're not going to use that as an excuse," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "We've got the most road games, and then there's the back-to-back situation [Houston played the previous night in Boston]. It's just part of the NBA."

But still, who could have predicted this outcome? Washington, with MacLean's 30 points and Rex Chapman's 27 leading five players in double figures. Washington hit a season-high 48 field goals, surpassing the 47 in Tuesday's 115-100 win over the New Jersey Nets.

Down 90-76 entering the fourth quarter, Houston began shooting the penalty with 10:34 left. But Houston hit just three of nine free throws in the first 3:12 (Thorpe was 1-5).

That was the game. Houston could only get as close as 11 in the fourth quarter, in losing for the fifth time in its past 11 games.

There was simply no let-up from the Bullets, who have blown big leads at home before. But against the Rockets, both the inside game and the outside game were working.

"We always have [going inside] as a plan, it just never works out that way," Unseld said. "It just happened things were dropping. We talked about going inside and dumping the ball outside because they're a good shot-blocking team. But they only had [one] all night."

Chapman spread his 27 points evenly, scoring 13 in the first half and 14 in the second half. Nine came during the last 1:40 of the first quarter, sparking an 11-0 run that gave Washington a 33-20 lead. Houston would never get closer than six.

"The offense was just great," Chapman said. "This is the type of effort we need to be successful."

MacLean gave another solid performance, hitting 11 of 16 shots from the field. He's averaging 27 points the past three games.

"I just think we were real active," MacLean said. "We were real aggressive, going to the glass more."

And there was Butler, tossing a couple of layups over Olajuwon during his perfect evening from the field. His forte is going to the basket, but the free-agent rookie even included a couple of outside jumpers.

"When he hit those two jumpers I knew strange things were happening," Unseld said.

A rarity could happen on Saturday -- three straight wins, something the Bullets have not been able to do this season. But their foe, the Los Angeles Clippers, is on a seven-game losing streak.

"We have been playing well," Unseld said. "We just need everyone to play well to be competitive."

NOTES: Calbert Cheaney, who had a 101-degree temperature, was not at the game. . . . Houston G Vernon Maxwell played after missing four games with an irregular heartbeat.

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