Hip Flexor Could Sideline Muresan

After Scaring Bulls, Bullets Return Confident

April 29, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

BOWIE -- Gheorghe Muresan sat while his Washington Bullets teammates practiced yesterday. And there's a chance that Muresan, who was supposed to be a big factor in the opening-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, might be sitting for tomorrow's third game as well.

Muresan was diagnosed with a strained right hip flexor, the same injury that forced him out of the first five games of the season. The hip flexor might be related to the strained lower back that bothered Muresan late in the season, and his status is questionable for tomorrow night, the first postseason game at USAir Arena since 1988. The Bullets trail the best-of-five series 2-0.

"It doesn't really matter if he plays," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said, "because we're going to prepare for the alternative."

Even with Muresan out for much of Game 2 Sunday in Chicago, the Bullets played one of their best games of the season -- only to fall victim to Michael Jordan's 55 points in a 109-104 Bulls win.

Still, the team was very loose at the conclusion of practice yesterday, inspired by the fact that it went into a hostile arena and put a scare into the defending NBA champions.

"We played well enough in the first two games to, had we been playing at home, probably win them," said Chris Webber, who scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on Sunday. "We don't need to change much but [increase our intensity]. We're doing a nice job. We just want to take it to another level."

The level at which the Bullets are playing has caught the attention of Jordan. "They're earning their respect," Jordan said. "And they're gaining confidence about playing against us. I'd like to get this thing over quick before they gain too much confidence."

Webber said that while it would be difficult if Muresan does not play (he had 24 points and 13 rebounds in a regular-season win over the Bulls on April 3), the Bullets still can compete with Chicago without their 7-foot-7 center.

"They don't have mismatches in the post since that's not their dominant position," Webber said. "We can create mismatches on our own. We can get through that."

What the Bullets probably cannot get through is another super effort from Jordan, who matched his highest output since returning to basketball in 1995 and set a United Center record with the 55 points. What was incredible about Jordan's outing is that Calbert Cheaney was draped all over him while the Bulls guard was making many of his shots.

"The defense was good; he was just that much better," Cheaney said yesterday. "I did what I could. I threw everything but the kitchen sink at him. When a player gets in that zone, and the rim is looking as big as it was for him, there's really nothing you can do."

What makes it so difficult to defend Jordan is that he rarely goes to the same move twice, which keeps defenders guessing against the game's best scorer.

"A lot of players in the league have one signature move; he doesn't have one signature move," Cheaney said. "If he gives you something and you think he's going to come back with it, he's not going to.

"The most dangerous part is the fadeaway jumper," Cheaney added. "When he turns and gets up in the air, you think you have it. [But] he's going so high and he's going back in such an angle that you can't get to it. He just hits it every time."

Not only did Cheaney work hard on defense, but he also made Jordan work hard on defense. And it was Cheaney the Bullets went to at the end of the game, as he took the ball to the basket right at Jordan. Cheaney scored 26 points, a season high.

"I told Calbert that after the job he did on Jordan with 26 points, who cares that Jordan scored 55?" Webber said. "[Jordan] does that against great defenders. By Calbert doing what he did and making him work hard, Calbert better not look across anybody next year and think they can check him, because Jordan had a hard time. That builds your confidence."

And the Bullets go into tomorrow night's game confident, hoping to extend the team name Bullets for at least one more game. Next season they'll be known as the Wizards.

"We just finished talking about the fact that we're not satisfied just to play well," Bickerstaff said. "We want to win. Perhaps the home crowd will give us a little more emotion."

Bullets vs. Bulls

Eastern Conference playoffs

(Bulls lead 2-0)

Results, schedule

Day ..... Site/Res. ... Time ... TV

Gm. 1 ... Bulls, 98-86

Gm. 2 ... Bulls, 109-104

Wed. .... Wash. ...... 8 ...... 50

Fri. .... Wash.* ... TBA ... 54 50

Sun. .... Chi.* .... TBA ..... TBA

*-If necessary

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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