Alarie shoots his way back into key role with Bullets


Mark Alarie was fast becoming the Washington Bullets' forgotten man.

The veteran forward, who was the Bullets' key frontcourt reserve last season, had hit a puzzling early-season slump that dropped his field-goal percentage to 37 percent and his scoring average to 6.7.

Bullets coach Wes Unseld had become so discouraged by Alarie's lackluster performance that he did not play the former Duke All-American in victories over the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors last week.

Alarie's inactivity prompted trade rumors and damaged his confidence.

"It's hard to put in words, but riding the bench, you feel a little worthless and your ego is shot down," said Alarie, who rebounded at the Capital Centre on Saturday night, scoring 14 points in 17 minutes as the Bullets stopped the defending champion Detroit Pistons' 10-game winning streak, 94-83.

"I guess you can call it a resurrection," said Alarie with a laugh.

After averaging career highs of 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds last season while filling in at all three frontcourt positions in the absence of injured John Williams, Alarie saw his playing time diminish quickly this season, as Unseld gave minutes to newly acquired Pervis Ellison, who has strengthened the team defense.

Even inconsistent Tom Hammonds replaced Alarie in Unseld's frontcourt substitution rotation. But Alarie chose not to make an issue of his lowly status.

"I'm not going to question how Wes wants to coach this team," Alarie said.

"Realistically, I'd been playing poorly. I hadn't shot the ball well. If there is one word to describe how I play, it's a shooter. I've always had confidence in my shooting ability. I've had slumps before in my four previous seasons, but, unfortunately, this one came right at the start of the season.

"You start wondering what's wrong and you begin hearing about possible trades. You also wonder if the team you're with is the right situation for you. You can worry yourself to death."

Asked if he had reached an emotional low in his National Basketball Association career, Alarie said: "No, that was my first year [1987-88] in Washington. I was playing only 12 minutes a game, the 12th man on the team. I had genuine concern about my future."

Alarie got off the bench Saturday night when Unseld found himself short-handed after Ellison was out with the flu. He came off the bench in the second quarter and scored 10 points as the Bullets moved to a 48-38 halftime lead. For the first time in weeks, he looked confident shooting his jump shot.

"I didn't try changing my shooting technique," he said. "I don't like to think about anything mechanically. Start doing that, and you'll never hit a shot."

Unseld also chose to leave him alone.

"He looked like the Alarie of old against Detroit," Unseld said. "I wish something I said or did helped end his slump. But it was probably something I didn't say."

With his team averaging only 98 points a game and Bernard King accounting for close to one-third of the offense, Unseld has been searching for scoring help, especially from the bench.

Alarie's return to form could serve as a shot in the arm for the Bullets, who begin a five-game Western swing in Utah tomorrow night.

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