For Washington Bullets center Kevin Duckworth, the abuse from vocal fans at the Baltimore Arena began to get personal after rookie backup center Gheorghe Muresan scored his first NBA field goal early in the second quarter Saturday against the Miami Heat.
"Hey Kevin," screamed a fan two rows behind the Bullets bench, "Gheorghe is better than you."
Duckworth sat expressionless. Through eight games this season, he's been the target of a lot of fan abuse.
"The fans here have been hard on me," Duckworth said.
"I've never been booed in front of my home crowd. It's totally new to me."
But it was all cheers for Duckworth after his hook shot and ensuing free throw with 5.1 seconds left lifted Washington from a one-point deficit to a 104-102 win over the Heat before a sellout crowd in the first of four games in Baltimore this season.
Though the victory that improved the team to 4-4 was important, the Bullets also are hoping it helps boost the confidence and play of their struggling center.
Duckworth hasn't really done a lot that would make fans cheer so far this season. After Saturday's night 2-for-8 effort from the field, he's shooting 34.1 percent this season, averaging 9.0 points a game.
In the season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, he had three rebounds in 41 minutes. In last week's victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Duckworth's personal foul total -- four -- equaled his points and rebounds -- two and two.
Not exactly numbers the Bullets were expecting, considering they traded their leading scorer last season, Harvey Grant, to Portland for Duckworth.
"I know I've been struggling, but my main concern has been if my teammates lose confidence in me, then it might be a long time for me to gain it back," Duckworth said. "They're hanging in there with me, and I'm grateful for that."
Even with his team sticking with him, it was a gutsy call to go to Duckworth in Washington's first game that has been decided by five or fewer points.
"I wasn't shocked at all because he's a veteran and he wants to be the go-to guy," said Tom Gugliotta, who scored 25 points, on the decision to go to Duckworth. "Kevin struggled all game, but he seemed to have confidence at the end, and he wanted to ball."
Gugliotta made the pass to Duckworth on the right block. And with a move toward the middle of the lane and the soft hook shot over Rony Seikaly (who committed a foul on the play), Duckworth had even the heckling fan on his feet cheering.
It was exactly for that kind of play the Bullets acquired Duckworth -- to go to the low post in a close game.
"[Unseld] asked me if I was ready, and I said, 'Yes' " Duckworth said of the conversation in the huddle, which followed two free throws by the Heat that were a result of a turnover by Duckworth. "I love to be the go-to guy when the game is on the line, I like that pressure."
And the teammates who have stood behind him were happy with the results.
"It was a good call by the coaches, and it was good to give Duck a chance in that situation," Michael Adams said. "As long as he stays with it, good things will happen."
Duckworth will get many chances to show that this week with a schedule that will put him against three of the toughest centers in the league: Alonzo Mourning and the Charlotte Hornets at home on Tuesday, Brad Daugherty and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic on Saturday. It may turn out to be a difficult week for Duckworth, but for a night, at least, he paid dividends for his team.
"All I want to do is be active to try to help my teammates," Duckworth said.
"I knew something had to come up good for me one of these days."