Hawks' number on Bullets gives Wilkens 939th

January 07, 1995|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- There were 31 seconds left on the clock, but Lenny Wilkens' celebration could wait no longer. As the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Bullets continued to battle on the floor, Wilkens reached behind the bench to get a light for the big cigar he was handed just moments before, then took one big puff.

It was a taste of history -- and a moment that would have made former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach proud. Atlanta's 112-90 win over the Bullets last night was the 939th of Wilkens' 22-year coaching career, passing the mark held by Auerbach.

"The satisfaction is that only one person can be No. 1 at one time," said Wilkens, calling the record the biggest accomplishment of his career. "There's only one guy at the top, and it's nice to be there -- however long it is."

Chances are Wilkens will be there for a while. Among active coaches, only the Dallas Mavericks' Dick Motta (870) is close.

The city of Atlanta didn't exactly embrace the milestone. A less-than-capacity crowd of 12,069 was announced at The Omni, where the Hawks have failed to sell out a game all season. One local columnist yesterday even suggested that the record didn't mean much, a comment that Wilkens appeared to address as he took a microphone at center court after the game.

"I've gotten cards and letters from all over the world," Wilkens said. "It is a big deal and I'm happy to be a part of this."

While Wilkens and his team celebrated, the Bullets' locker room was silent as Washington lost its sixth straight and 14th of its past 15. The Bullets once trailed by 29 points and never really were in the game after midway through the first quarter.

"We were soft defensively from the top, and we turned the ball over like crazy," Lynam said. "We were lethargic. It's tough to explain, coming off the way we played the other night [in late comeback at Indiana]."

In that game, the Bullets rallied from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to within three, and held the Pacers to nine points in the fourth quarter. Last night, the Bullets were blasted early and often, as the Hawks made 12 three-pointers.

Bullets point guard Scott Skiles wasn't burned on many of the three-pointers -- he hardly played. Skiles put in eight minutes at -- the top of the game, and wasn't heard from the rest of the way.

"Scott asked out," Lynam said. "Say it's a coach's decision."

Said Skiles: "I don't want to comment on it. Let Jim comment on it."

Asked if he was hurt, Skiles replied: "No."

As dissension set in on a struggling team, there was a bit of good news for the Bullets as Rex Chapman made his return. But the offensive spark the Bullets have missed the past 14 games was not there early as Chapman missed his first seven shots. He made six of his last 10, finishing with 15 points.

"I had a little bit of rustiness at first," Chapman said. "Any time you miss a little time, and I missed almost a month, it is natural not to be in the flow at first."

The Bullets were without Kevin Duckworth, who, after playing just part of the first half in Indiana, chose to rest his sore left Achilles'. He watched the blowout in street clothes -- and what he saw was not pretty.

"We didn't give ourselves much of a chance to win," Lynam said.

As much as the Bullets have struggled, no one would have faulted the Hawks for holding their celebration for Wilkens' record before the game. Now the two biggest wins of his career -- an NBA title in 1979, and win No. 939 -- have come against the Bullets. The Hawks had been unsuccessful in three attempts to get the record until last night.

"There's a lot of satisfaction and a lot of relief," Wilkens said. "The players can now focus on what we're trying to do."

A native of Brooklyn, Wilkens set the record with a laid-back style admired by NBA coaches.

"If you want to last in this league that long, you can't burn yourself up on the sidelines," Wilkens said. "My players always know what the parameters are all the time -- that they are responsible for it. And we go from there."

Wilkens will be honored tonight, when commissioner David Stern will present him with a crystal sculpture to celebrate passing the great Auerbach.

"The only guy I watched who I thought did a great job was Red Auerbach," Wilkens said. "He's a great coach and a competitor, and I'm a competitor as well. What you face among great competitors is respect."

* NOTES: Ken Norman's 23 points led Atlanta. Juwan Howard had 16 points for the Bullets. . . . If Duckworth's injury is serious, the Bullets can't put him on the injured list because they already have the NBA maximum of three.

%

WINNINGEST COACHES

Coach ... ... ... ... ... Wins

x-Lenny Wilkens .. .. ... 939

Red Auerbach .. .. .. ... 938

x-Dick Motta .. .. .. ... 870

Jack Ramsay ... .. .. ... 864

x-Bill Fitch .. .. .. ... 850

x-active

BULLETS TONIGHT

Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: HTS/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: This is the fourth game of a four-game, five-day road swing through the Atlantic Division for Portland. The Trail Blazers are 15-14 after last night's win in Boston. G Clyde Drexler (23.0 ppg before last night) leads the team in scoring, but recently told reporters in Portland that he would like to be traded. F Clifford Robinson (21.6) and G Rod Strickland (17.8) are the only other players averaging in double figures. Like Portland, this is the second of back-to-back games for the Bullets, who lost to Atlanta last night. G Rex Chapman returned to the lineup last night, after missing 13 of the previous 14 games with a sore right groin. C Kevin Duckworth, who has played sparingly recently because of a sore Achilles', sat out last night's game. Washington has lost two straight to the Trail Blazers.

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