LANDOVER -- For a change, there was loud applause at USAir Arena, with the fans finally watching a performance they could cheer. Unfortunately for the Washington Bullets, what the crowd enjoyed was not the home team's effort.
Playing in front of a crowd that treated them as if they were the home team, the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls put on a show with a fourth-quarter burst that sealed last night's 116-94 win before a sellout of 18,756.
Perhaps the theme of the evening was "Adopt an All-Star" as the fans cheered every move of the Bulls' all-star trio of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and B. J. Armstrong. The three did not disappoint: Grant had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Armstrong 20 points and six assists, and Pippen 18 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.
Chicago showed why it is tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference with the Atlanta Hawks.
"They're starting lineup is as good as any in the Eastern Conference," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "They took over like the Chicago Bulls can take over."
The takeover came late. The Bullets were still close early in the fourth quarter when Gheorghe Muresan hit a jumper to cut the lead to 85-77 with 9:35 left.
But, in a flash, it was all over. Toni Kukoc, activated from the injured list earlier in the day, scored on a layup that started the Bulls on a 16-2 run over the next 4:19. It wasn't even the Bulls' all-star trio doing the damage. Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington (12 points) and newcomer Luc Longley scored during the run, which after a dunk by Pippen increased the Bulls' lead to 101-79 with 5:04 left.
Chicago, which shot 67 percent in the second half, led by as many as 25 points en route to its third straight win.
"They play an up tempo and they were able to get some easy baskets," said Bullets center Pervis Ellison, who scored 15 points. "It seems like they ran off 10 points in a two-minute span."
The Bullets played well much of the night, trailing by as few as three points in the third quarter after a layup by Don MacLean (team-high 20 points, 12 in the third quarter) had Washington within 72-69. But the Bulls were able to close that quarter with an 11-2 run -- with seven of the points coming from Armstrong -- to take an 83-71 lead going in the final period.
"I got on him [Armstrong] at the half because I thought he could have taken some more opportunities to score," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "He took it well and came out in the second half and stepped it up."
Grant had his game stepped up from the opening tip, leading the Bulls with 16 points in the half. All six of his first-half rebounds came on the offensive boards.
"Horace is tough, and he did a great job," said Bullets forward Tom Gugliotta, who had nine points and five rebounds. "A big part of his game is getting on the offensive glass."
And Grant was a factor on offense, hitting 12 of 15 shots. He had 24 points midway through the third quarter and the only thing that stopped him from establishing a career high (31 against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 15) was the fourth-quarter run by the Bulls that kept him on the bench.
"[The ball] felt good leaving my hands and I was on," Grant said. "So I kept throwing it up."
* The Bullets have invited former Seton Hall standout Andrew Gaze for a tryout, and are prepared to offer him a 10-day contract if he performs up to expectations.
The 6-foot-5 Australian averaged 13.6 points for the 1988-89 Seton Hall squad that lost in overtime to Michigan in the NCAA final.
"We want him over here," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "I still don't know if he's coming or not -- the problem is that he doesn't have a work visa. But we expect to get that taken care of, and he should be here by the week after next."
Gaze is known for his shooting accuracy from the outside. The Bullets are without a true shooting guard, as Rex Chapman is out with a dislocated right ankle and his replacement, rookie Calbert Cheaney, is sidelined with a torn tendon in his left foot.
Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Bullets have won both of the previous meetings. Milwaukee, next to last in the Central Division, played at Atlanta last night. G Eric Murdock (14.4 ppg before last night) and G Todd Day (12.6 ppg) lead the Bucks in scoring. The Bullets, last in the Atlantic Division, lost to the Chicago Bulls last night.