LANDOVER -- The struggling Washington Bullets chose "Ugly Blazer Night" to play one of their prettiest basketball games of the season, beating the Portland Trail Blazers, 114-102, before an appreciative sellout crowd of 18,756 at the Capital Centre.
The Bullets (21-50), who only recently lost to lottery-bound Dallas and Sacramento, exhibited excellent floor balance, with six players scoring in double figures, led by Tom Gugliotta's 21 points. Larry Stewart chipped in 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Minus his two centers -- Pervis Ellison and Charles Jones -- coach Wes Unseld got a much-needed lift from just-acquired Mark Acres, who provided five points and three rebounds in a solid relief role.
The Blazers (42-28), NBA finalists two of the past three years, lost All-Star guard Clyde Drexler to a hamstring injury in the first quarter. With Buck Williams grabbing a game-high 19 rebounds, they crushed the Bullets on the boards, 51-31, but proved vulnerable on the fast break. Michael Adams scored the majority of his 18 points on layups.
Cliff Robinson led Portland with 24 points.
Although center Kevin Duckworth had returned from the injured list after missing five games with a sore knee, the Blazers continued to start four-year veteran Mark Bryant in his place.
This proved a better matchup for Gugliotta, forced to play center in the absence of both Ellison and Jones. Stewart started at forward.
The Bullets tried to compensate for their lack of size by springing traps on the bigger Blazers. It created some early turnovers and a 10-6 lead with Gugliotta scoring six straight.
But the Blazers quickly solved the problem and used excellent interior passing in a 7-0 run, with the acrobatic Drexler doing most of the damage. The game of spurts continued. Gugliotta and Stewart ignited an 8-0 spree by the Bullets to reclaim the lead, 21-17.
With 3:41 left in the first quarter, Drexler left the court. The injury was diagnosed as a strained hamstring and he would sit out the rest of the game. He was replaced by Mario Elie.
The Bullets used the foul line and baskets by Rex Chapman and Gugliotta to pad their lead to 34-25 at the end of the period. Gugliotta had 11 points and grabbed four rebounds.
Journeyman center Acres, who signed a 10-day contract yesterday, made his Washington debut in the second quarter and picked up a foul in the first 11 seconds. But he assisted on a baseline jumper by Brent Price in the next minute.
Chapman scored his second three-pointer to build the lead to 39-28. Unseld went to his bench, and the reserves maintained a 45-33 edge.
Terry Porter found his touch, and scored five straight points to trim the deficit to 45-38. When Robinson and Rod Strickland added a pair of baskets, it was a three-point game.
The Bullets were forced into a perimeter game and took a number of low percentage shots with the 24-second clock expiring. Meanwhile, Robinson and Porter closed to within 51-49. A three-pointer by Porter produced a 54-54 tie.
The half ended knotted at 56. Both teams shot 48 percent from the field in the first half, but Portland had a decisive 24-15 edge on the boards, with Williams grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Blazers moved in front early in the second half on Strickland's layup, 62-61. But the lead changed hands three times in the next few minutes with LaBradford Smith scoring on a pair of baskets for the Bullets.
Washington, however, could not stop Robinson inside. The explosive forward made two dunks with quick baseline moves. Stewart matched him with two layups. Three fast breaks produced baskets by Smith and Gugliotta and gave the Bullets an 80-71 spread.
Strickland sparked a Portland comeback with his scoring and passing as the visitors trimmed the margin to 84-81. Elie had five points in this spurt. Chapman answered with five straight to boost the lead back to 88-81 after three quarters. Stewart scored eight points in the period in which Washington shot 67 percent (14-for-21).
Adams upped the lead to 93-83 early in the fourth quarter with two driving layups. Acres made his presence felt on both ends, rebounding and scoring two layups to keep Washington ahead, 99-87. But Acres was forced to leave the game with a cut hand under the league's new AIDS rules. The injury only required a Band-Aid.
The Blazers scratched back, using a three-point play by Strickland and a Jerome Kersey layup to cut the margin to 101-94 with 4 minutes left. Stewart ended the Bullets famine with an aggressive layup, but Robinson matched this with a resounding dunk. With two minutes left, Washington led, 107-98.
Portland 25 31 25 21 -- 102
Washington 34 22 32 26 -- 114