As ups and downs even out, Chapman is finding his target

November 08, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

Entering his seventh pro season, Rex Chapman has endured the growing pains of NBA expansion with the Charlotte Hornets, the struggles of losing with the Washington Bullets and the frustration of injuries.

Yet through it all, Chapman has never lost his confidence as a shooter -- never more clear than on opening night, when, with time running out, he launched the game-winning shot with the Orlando Magic's Horace Grant draped all over him.

Or so it seemed.

"It might not have looked like an open shot," Chapman said, shrugging his shoulders at his heroics. "But for me, I can get to that spot and get the shot off. If it's there, I'm going to take it."

That's the type of mentality you want from your starting shooting guard. And Chapman's confidence is why the Bullets are 2-0 -- Washington's first 2-0 start since the 1991-92 season.

Chapman followed his game-winning shot in Friday's opener with seven points in overtime of Washington's 100-99 win over the Chicago Bulls. He has scored 47 points in two games and has helped give long-suffering Bullets fans a ray of hope.

"We accomplished, I'm sure, something nobody thought we would by beating Orlando and Chicago," Chapman said after yesterday's practice. "If you go back a week, I don't think the media or anybody would pick us to be 2-0. We were able to hang in both games, putting us at the end with a chance to win."

And that's all coach Jim Lynam has asked of his team in his first year with the Bullets. The Bullets were 1-9 against Orlando and Chicago last season, and hadn't won in Chicago since 1988.

"The goal is to legitimately be able to say to ourselves we've improved to a point where we have a chance to win every night," Lynam said. "I'm not ready to say we've reached that goal based on two games. After we've put ourselves in a position on a consistent basis, the second goal is to cash in on some percentage of those opportunities."

He likes his chances with Chapman, who has impressed him defensively and offensively since the first day of training camp.

"The guy is a big-shot guy who's oblivious to the pressure -- I couldn't say enough good things about him," Lynam said. "I think he's done a great job in, for the most part, taking high-percentage shots. One of the knocks against him before was he sometimes took bad shots."

Another knock against Chapman was that, as a professional, he never quite lived up to the potential he demonstrated at the University of Kentucky where he starred before being selected by Charlotte in the first round (eighth pick) of the 1988 draft after his sophomore season.

When the Bullets drafted Calbert Cheaney with their first-round pick in 1993, Chapman began an off-season workout program intended to save his job and prove his critics wrong.

"Everybody here has ability, but what separates the good from the great players are the ones who work at it," Chapman said. "Over the past three years I decided to work at my game. I always had the ability, it was just a matter of working at it."

Last season the work paid off so well that Chapman was playing at an All-Star level. But dreams of wearing an All-Star uniform were shot when Chapman dislocated his right ankle on Jan. 17 against the San Antonio Spurs.

"Every now and then I wake up, just thinking about coming down on Dennis Rodman's foot," Chapman said. "It was good for me to go back and play last year [after missing 21 games] just to put the injury out of my mind.

"Now the ankle is probably a little stronger because of all the work I put into it," he said. "I wanted to work that hard just so that I would never think about it once I stepped on the floor."

There are signs that Chapman may once again make an All-Star push. "To be honest," said Chapman, demonstrating the same confidence he has as a shooter, "I've always known I had the ability to be that type of player."

NOTES: Don MacLean, who missed the first two games with a blister on his foot, returned to practice yesterday. . . . Tom Gugliotta suffered irritation in his left eye and sat out the practice. His status for tomorrow's game in Philadelphia is probable. . . . Jim McIlvaine, placed on the injured list before the start of the season with a sprained right ankle, likely will practice today. . . . Talks between Bullets general manager John Nash and David Falk, Juwan Howard's agent, are continuing. Falk is still attempting to get Nash to restructure several contracts to get Howard more than the $1.309 million salary slot that is available this season. As part of last week's no-strike, no-lockout pledge by the NBA, all contracts other than rookies' will be frozen today.

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