Ask basketball players about nights when they "feel it," and some can describe entire games where everything they shoot goes in. For Washington Bullets guard Rex Chapman in Saturday's win over the Orlando Magic, all he needed was a stretch of 71 seconds.
It was Chapman's scoring the first eight points of a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter that helped erase a nine-point deficit and lift Washington to a 112-110 win over the Magic. The sellout crowd at the USAir Arena saw Washington's fifth straight home win end month in which the Bullets (6-6) finished .500 or better -- the first time both have occurred since 1990.
It's been a team effort, but one of the main reasons has been the consistent play of Chapman.
Through 12 games, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard is averaging a team-high 19.0 points. A 43.8 percent career shooter coming into this season, Chapman is connecting on 55.1 percent of his shots, including 20 of his past 30 (66.6 percent) over the past two games.
"He is playing with a lot more confidence and, consequently, we have a lot more confidence in him," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "Last year, he couldn't make a shot down the stretch. But this is not the same Rex."
The "old" Rex missed 19 games with injuries in his first full season as a Bullet. And when he was healthy, he spent a lot of time in Unseld's doghouse, starting 23 games and being benched for long stretches because of lack of production.
But the drafting of Calbert Cheaney sent Chapman a message -- produce or play behind a rookie. Chapman's hard work in the off-season has paid off with a productive stretch that has helped the Bullets knock off Orlando and Charlotte in their past two home games -- teams they failed to beat last season.
"I think it's the best stretch at the beginning of a season, without a doubt," Chapman said. "I feel good, and Wes has given me confidence, so I'm playing with more confidence."
It takes a confident player to do what Chapman did Saturday. With the Bullets trailing 95-86 with 7:01 left, Chapman took a pass from Kevin Duckworth (all three of his assists came during the fourth-quarter run) and without hesitation launched a three-pointer with 6:41 left. He followed with a running jump shot, and another feed from Duckworth led to a three-pointer that put the Bullets within 95-94 with 5:30 left.
Those shots got the crowd going. A driving layup by Michael Adams (24 points) gave Washington a 96-95 lead. When the Magic took a one-point lead, Adams followed with a jump shot with 3:14 left that put the Bullets ahead for good.
"[The starters] sat out a while and had gotten a good break that allowed us to come back in the game fresh," said Chapman, who checked in with the other starters with just over nine minutes left. "We needed some buckets. Mike was doing a good job running the offense, and Duck was doing a good job getting me the ball. Everybody really stepped up and did some good things."
Especially Chapman, whose newfound confidence has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
"He's injury-free, and Wes is calling his number more," said Adams, who also has been hot, with 65.2 percent shooting over his past two games. "[Chapman] came in in shape, and he's ready to show the kind of player that he can be. He's confident. We're trying to get him shots, and he's not afraid to take it. That's what we need from him."
Duckworth said of Chapman, "He was in a flow and when a guy's shooting the ball that well and he's open, you get it to him."
Chapman, who, before the season, said he'd like to become an All-Star before his career is over, would like to shake the "great talent, no consistency" label attached to him since he was a first-round pick of the Charlotte Hornets in 1988.
"If we can continue to play like we are, we'd be sitting around the .500 mark," Chapman said. "We'd like to win every game, but realistically if we can go [.500], I think we can make the playoffs."