Slumbering Muresan arises to lead Bullets by Hawks Center's strong 2nd half, bench play key 99-91 win

March 11, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- This was a game in which Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan figured he could do pretty much as he pleased. And yet in yesterday's first half, even though he got exactly the positioning he wanted against Atlanta Hawks center Christian Laettner, Muresan didn't look entirely comfortable.

"Maybe I was still sleeping; I woke up at 11 o'clock," Muresan said of the afternoon contest. "But after I woke up, it was much easier to score."

That awakening came during a second half when Muresan contributed the bulk of his 27 points and 10 rebounds to spark a 99-91 win over the Hawks before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

It was the fourth win in five games for the Bullets, who -- with a lift from their bench -- were able to bounce back from Friday's disappointing defeat at home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Bullets (28-34) are two games behind the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

What was impressive yesterday is that the Bullets were able to win despite a rare off-game by Juwan Howard (3-for-13, nine points).

Chris Whitney and Ledell Eackles picked up the slack, scoring 13 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench. That the Bullets got the contribution from both was somewhat of a surprise.

Whitney was expected to get his first minutes with the Bullets yesterday because Eackles, with a chipped bone in his left wrist, wasn't expected to play. Eackles said he felt fine and contributed eight points in the fourth quarter, three less than Whitney.

"Ledell gave us a boost and Whitney was excellent," coach Jim Lynam said. "[Whitney] did a good job at both ends. To go out the first time and know exactly what you're doing, he did well."

The Bullets had trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, but took control in the third quarter, shooting 58.8 percent, led by Muresan's 11 points (5-for-6).

"We let [Muresan] get too deep, then we were late double-teaming," Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens said. "You let him get that deep in the paint, he's going to score."

In the fourth quarter the Bullets led by as many as 13 points, with Eackles hitting both of his three-point attempts and Whitney doing a good job running the offense.

"I'm a point guard and I'm suppose to take control," said Whitney, who was a second-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs in 1993. "I'm glad [Lynam] had the confidence to go to me. I'm glad I was able to make him look good."

Now the Bullets face a two-game road trip to Chicago and New Jersey.

"We have to win a healthy percentage of these remaining games," Lynam said of the playoff push. "At this stage, we have a chore in front of us. We have to set the goal high and go get it."

NOTE: G Robert Pack (damaged leg nerve) may not practice for another week.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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