Minutes after the Bullets defeated the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday with the help of 10 fourth-quarter points from Calbert Cheaney, Washington coach Wes Unseld pulled his rookie guard aside and offered some words of advice.
"He told me that I had a good fourth quarter," Cheaney said on Saturday. "And he said that now I had to play two good halves."
Against the Orlando Magic on Saturday, Cheaney did just that, scoring a career-high 25 points. Although the Bullets lost, 103-99, Cheaney's performance was the type that Washington expects of the No. 6pick of last year's draft.
"That was perhaps his best effort, as far as playing the whole game," Unseld said after watching Cheaney hit 10 of 13 shots in a season-high 42 minutes. "He was able to take the ball to the basket and finish the plays off."
Cheaney finished in a variety of ways, from his driving layups to popping off screens to hitting his jump shot -- including several over Orlando's 7-foot center Shaquille O'Neal. A normally reserved player, Cheaney even demonstrated some on-court emotion, pumping his arms to the delight of the crowd after scoring on a reverse layup in the third quarter that gave the Bullets a nine-point lead.
L "I was just trying to get the crowd involved," Cheaney said.
With leading scorers Don MacLean and Rex Chapman sidelined with injuries, Cheaney knew he had to assume some of the scoring burden. He was impressive in the first quarter, hitting his first five shots and scoring 10 points.
"That's what I need to be doing," Cheaney said. "My job is to try to score."
And he posed problems all night for the Magic, which came away impressed with Cheaney's performance.
"Calbert had a great game," said another noted rookie, Orlando's Anfernee Hardaway, who was matched against Cheaney part of the night. "He shoots really well coming off screens. He made a living doing that at Indiana and, if he gets more shots like that in the pros, he's really going to make a living doing it here."
Added Orlando coach Brian Hill, "I thought Calbert was great. I always thought of him as a slashing, isolated player. I was surprised at the way he could stick it coming off a screen."
Cheaney wasn't the only Washington rookie making an impact. Center Gheorghe Muresan did what few centers have been able do this season -- he made O'Neal virtually disappear.
O'Neal had a field day in the first half, scoring 20 points, including six thunderous dunks. But when Kevin Duckworth picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, Unseld went with Muresan. And Muresan stood his ground against O'Neal, who had just seven points and four rebounds in the second half. Muresan had seven points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and it wasn't the first time he had gotten the best of O'Neal. In November, Muresan established career highs of seven points and seven rebounds in Washington's win over the Magic.
"I wasn't surprised because I'd seen him play Shaq before," Hill said. "He's the biggest and one of the strongest players Shaq plays against all year. . . . I wouldn't mind having him as my backup center."