Hurting for center, Bullets may need a Webber revival

November 29, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

BOWIE -- A week ago all was just fine with the front line of the Washington Bullets, who were shaping a group that was expected to compete favorably with most teams in the league. But injuries may force coach Jim Lynam to patch together a group going into tonight's game against the New York Knicks.

Starting center Kevin Duckworth still is nursing a pulled right groin muscle, and sat out yesterday's practice. Backup Gheorghe Muresan was placed on the injured list yesterday after having a doctor check out the strained ligament in his left knee that has forced him to miss the past four games. That means newly acquired Chris Webber might get the starting nod against Patrick Ewing at center tonight.

"What are you going to do?" an exasperated Lynam said following yesterday's practice at Bowie State. "We're not the only team in this boat [with injuries]. It's tough."

Webber didn't hide his dislike for playing center at Golden State, but said he'll do whatever he has to for the Bullets as they try to end a five-game losing streak against the defending Eastern Conference champs.

"I'm not a center, but we're undermanned," said Webber, who's coming off Saturday's 22-point, 20-rebound game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "I'm confident. I played center last year and I can do it this year. [Ewing] is a good player, and I'm just going to try to contain him."

In two games last year against the Knicks, Webber, 6 feet 10 and 260 pounds, averaged 10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. Ewing, 7 feet, 240, averaged 22.0 points and 12.5 rebounds as the teams split their games.

"[At Golden State] we had a scheme where one person didn't guard him -- he had to worry about a trap every time," Webber said. "Offensively, the scheme wasn't for me to score. My job was to get out at the hash mark so Patrick wouldn't be down there to block shots."

If Duckworth's healthy enough, Webber will have his hands full with just Charles Oakley. But Duckworth, who pulled the muscle in the second quarter of Friday's loss to Cleveland, might not know until game time whether he can play. He spent yesterday having the injury treated with heat, ice and ultrasound.

"I've never been in this position where I've pulled a groin," Duckworth said. "[Saturday] I was trying [one point, one rebound in 15 minutes], but I think I was defeating the purpose because I did more damage than good. Taking the time and letting this heal, before doing any more damage, is the important thing."

Which is why Lynam told Duckworth to be very cautious in what he does leading up to tonight's game. Duckworth will test his injury at today's shoot-around.

"I would list Kevin as possible, about 50-50," Lynam said.

If Webber starts at center, look for rookie Juwan Howard to make his first start at power forward. Although Howard scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds on Saturday, he has struggled somewhat with his shooting (32.0 percent).

"You're at your best when you know what you want to do," Lynam said of Howard. "He's playing a little quick when he gets the ball inside and he's rushing his move a little. It's all part of learning."

Howard said that with each game he's beginning to feel more comfortable.

"I'm glad I've got three games under my belt because it's given me an opportunity to know what to work on and look for," Howard said. "Hopefully I'll get better each game."

Lynam has to hope his backcourt gets better this game, after a couple of subpar performances against Cleveland and Los Angeles. Yesterday Lynam had Rex Chapman running the point toward the end of practice, something he hasn't done since the preseason."

"It's something we want to think about," said Lynam, trying to get a different look other than Doug Overton as a backup to Scott Skiles.

NOTES: Forward Anthony Tucker was activated off the injured list, replacing Muresan on the roster. . . . The Bullets have lost their past nine against New York, including five games last season. Ewing led New York in scoring in four of the five games. . . . Webber was surprised at the loud booing that greeted the Bullets as they left the floor Saturday. "How you going to be a fan and do that?" Webber said. "I've never been to an arena where the crowd cheers for the other players, and boo the home team. That surprised me."

BULLETS TONIGHT

Opponent: New York Knicks

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV: HTS

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: New York (6-4) looks to rebound from Saturday's 105-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden. A year ago the Knicks were the league's top defensive team (91.5 ppg allowed) and weren't known to put points on the board (98.5 pg). This year New York is allowing more points (100.0 ppg) and, with a offense that looks to run more, scoring more (100.6). The Bullets are looking to end a five-game losing streak in this their fourth of five straight home games. Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers dropped the Bullets to 4-6, despite a 22-point, 20-rebound performance from Chris Webber.

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