Hot Muresan cools Grizzlies, 102-77 Center hits last 11 shots as 21-21 Bullets match last season's win total

January 28, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Most teams depleted by injury would welcome a six-day break. But the Washington Bullets, after back-to-back blowout wins, aren't so sure.

"You can say the break is coming at an inopportune time," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said after last night's 102-77 rout of the Vancouver Grizzlies. "But we'll look forward to a couple of days away from it."

The win evened the Bullets' record at 21-21, matching the team's win total for all of last season. Washington didn't win its 21st game last year until the final game against the Philadelphia 76ers -- a game that few fans saw and few cared about.

That's because last year's team didn't display the energy of the current squad, which had three players score over 20 points last night to inspire a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

Juwan Howard led the way with 24 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Gheorghe Muresan had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Calbert Cheaney had 23 points.

Guard Brent Price had 13 assists, tying his season high.

That was enough to give the Bullets, who had dropped two games to Toronto, their first win over an expansion team this season.

"You can't concentrate on what you don't have. You have to go with what you have out there," Howard said of injuries to Washington's Mark Price, Chris Webber and Robert Pack. "Everyone has to step it up, from the starters to the last guy on the bench. It's tough to win without those guys, but we know we can do it."

It was a four-point game at the half, but Washington limited Vancouver to just 32 second-half points on the way to the win.

"We had a terrific third quarter," Lynam said. "Vancouver had done a good job in the first two quarters in slowing the game down."

Maybe the slowdown affected Muresan early -- he missed his first shot of the game. But after that it was all Muresan, who dominated his matchup with Bryant "Big Country" Reeves by hitting his last 11 shots.

"He's the tallest guy I have ever seen," said Reeves, who at 7 feet, 295 pounds was giving up 7 inches and 8 pounds. "He has an excellent touch and is hard to get off the box. Once he gets on the box, there's nothing you can do."

Muresan is averaging 17.7 points and 11.2 rebounds over his last four games.

"I told Gheorghe to be careful," Lynam said. "If he does it too often, we'll expect it every night."

Muresan and backup center Jim McIlvaine held Reeves to 13 points and just four rebounds.

"Our strength is [Reeves] in the post," Vancouver coach Brian Winters said. "Theirs is Muresan and McIlvaine in the lane. They were able to take him away."

Maybe the biggest boost for the Bullets in their two wins has come from Cheaney, who scored 20 in Thursday night's 120-85 rout of Houston.

Last night Cheaney had 11 points in the first quarter, and wound up hitting three three-pointers in the game.

When he is hitting from the outside like that, it forces defenders to play him tightly. That allows Cheaney to penetrate more.

"I need to come out and be aggressive every time on the floor," said Cheaney, who was playing in his fifth game since missing 11 with strained ligaments in his right ankle. "Sometimes I'm not mentally into it and it hurts my play. I know if I play hard, good things will happen."

The win came despite the fact that the Bullets didn't get any scoring from their bench until the third quarter, and that the team wound up tying the franchise record for fewest free-throw attempts with six.

And it came despite the fact that Webber, Price and Pack again were sitting out with injuries. Pack's nerve-damaged right leg still has little feeling and the timetable for his return still is uncertain. Webber (shoulder) and Price (foot) both had MRIs yesterday, with the results expected to be known tomorrow.

But the Bullets have managed to survive their absence, which makes going into this week's break that much more enjoyable.

"We'll welcome it," Howard said. "I'm just excited for the second half of the season."

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