NORMAL, Ill. -- When the Milwaukee Bucks' Vin Baker soared through the middle and attempted to ram home a dunk in traffic during Friday's preseason game against the Washington Bullets, was expected of a rookie who stands 6-foot-11.
But when a 6-1 guard like Lee Mayberry soars through the middle and finishes the job in traffic, you've got some problems.
When the Bullets lost their preseason opener, 109-103, at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University, one obvious flaw was the Bullets' defense in the paint. Milwaukee hit only 41 of 95 shots (43.2 percent), but 19 of those field goals were the result of layups or dunks, and other trips into the lane contributed to the Bucks' shooting 36 free throws.
"Guys getting into the middle, yes it's a concern," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "Especially with the fact that we don't have a shot blocker -- that concerns me right now."
The trading for Kevin Duckworth was mainly to get a center who can score (Duckworth had eight points in 18 minutes) and clog up the middle. But the 7-0 center never has been known for his shot-blocking ability.
Washington's best in that area is Pervis Ellison, who was eighth in the league with 2.2 blocks per game last season. When he returns to the lineup after recovering from surgery on both knees, he probably will help the team provide some shot-blocking strength.
Tito Horford may be the second-best shot blocker with the team (he had two on Friday), but the free agent has an uphill battle in winning a roster spot. Horford led Washington with 15 points (six of 10 from the field) and added eight rebounds against Milwaukee, but also committed five of the team's 24 turnovers.
A lot of those turnovers early in the game came against Milwaukee's full-court pressure.
"Once we ran the stuff that we were trying to tell them, we did well, so I wasn't concerned with Milwaukee's pressure," Unseld said. "It's something we're going to face, but I'm not looking at that right now."
Horford played 30 minutes, tops for the Bullets. Among the other free agents, Kenny Walker scored 11 points in 25 minutes, Lance Blanks had 10 points in eight minutes (he only played in the fourth quarter) and Mitchell Butler six points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
Of the players who figure to be in the regular rotation this season, Rex Chapman scored 10 points and attacked the basket aggressively in his 21 minutes, Tom Gugliotta scored seven points and pulled down nine rebounds in 23 minutes, Doug Overton had 13 points in 13 minutes and Duckworth had eight points (four of seven from the field) and six rebounds in 18 minutes. Don MacLean, who was impressive in last week's jTC intrasquad scrimmage, was limited to two free throws in the 12 minutes in which he played mostly power forward.
Despite a game in which the Bullets fell behind by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter, Washington figures to get better. First-round draft pick Calbert Cheaney, who is expected to practice this weekend after missing most of camp with sore hamstrings, should be in uniform for this week's games. Also returning will be Gheorghe Muresan, who missed Friday's game due to personal business with immigration officials.
Unseld's overall impression of the team's first preseason outing: "It was typical," he said.
Friday's late box score
Bucks 109, Bullets 103
Washington 20 21 26 36 -- 103
Milwaukee 25 24 33 27 -- 109