INDIANAPOLIS -- Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld tried three centers against Indiana's Rik Smits. He might as well have inserted himself into the lineup.
Smits, the Pacers' 7-foot-4 pivotman, scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots last night at Market Square Arena, as Indiana cruised by the Bullets, 116-96.
Smits seemed to have his way from the opening tip, scoring eight points on Bullets starter Kevin Duckworth in seven minutes before Duckworth sat down until the final three minutes of the game.
Smits then picked on Pervis Ellison, as he reached the end of the first period with 12 points and halftime with 15.
For much of the second half, Unseld threw Gheorghe Muresan into the lineup. The 7-7 Romanian rookie responded with his best game, scoring a career-high 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 18 minutes.
"I thought [Muresan] handled himself well," said Unseld, the standard by which all Bullets centers are measured. "I'm getting a little frustrated with that position. I will be starting to use him more because we're not getting much out of that position."
Ellison had two points and two rebounds in 20 minutes. Duckworth was blanked in both categories over 10 minutes.
Reggie Miller, the Pacers' shooting guard snubbed earlier in the day for an All-Star berth, took his frus
tration out on the Bullets with 25 points, nine assists and a season-high five steals.
"That was a tough assignment," said Bullets rookie shooting guard Calbert Cheaney, who spent much of the second quarter trading heavily guarded jumpers and post-up shots with Miller.
Cheaney almost single-handedly kept the Bullets in the game in the first half, hitting 10 of their 19 sec
ond-period points. He finished with 22 points and tied his season high with six assists.
"They both [Cheaney and Miller] shot the ball incredibly well, some of it in spite of good defense," Unseld said. "In the last few games since [Cheaney] has been getting major minutes, he's been very efficient at making the jumper."
Tom Gugliotta scored 18 and tied his season high with five steals. Michael Adams added 15 points. The Bullets shot 45.6 percent from the field and fell to 14-28 by losing their second straight game.
The Bullets lost the overall rebounding battle 36-34, but they had just 17 defensive rebounds.
"We tend to be a little soft in the post, and that's at [power forward], not just center," said Gugliotta, who had six rebounds. "That's the big key."
Indiana, which shot 60.8 percent in ending a five-game losing streak at Houston three nights earlier, hit 60.5 percent (46 of 76) against the Bullets to end its first half of the season at 18-23.
"They shot incredibly well. We were not getting into a good flow," Unseld said.
Washington's only lead, 13-11, came with 7:54 remaining in the first period on two Adams free throws which capped an 8-2 run.
Smits followed with two straight baskets to give Indiana the lead for good at 15-13 and spark a 13-2 run that put the Bullets behind 24-15 with 2:58 remaining on two Kenny Williams free throws.
Indiana opened the second period by hitting six straight points to go up 35-23 with 10:05 left on Williams' rebound basket and force a Washington timeout.
The Pacers increased their lead to 56-38 with 1:55 to go in the half and led 57-42 at intermission.
Indiana continued its blitz from the field early in the third quarter, hitting six straight shots on the way to a 70-48 lead with 8:05 to go on Haywoode Workman's layup after a steal. Smits scored four straight, including a jumper over Muresan that gave Indiana a 75-52 edge with 6:04 remaining.
Opponent: New York Knicks
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: This is a chance for Washington fans to see two All-Star performers. New York C Patrick Ewing (25.2 ppg) and G John Starks (20.1 ppg) were chosen yesterday as All-Star reserves for the Eastern Conference. Both have helped the Knicks to the lead in the Atlantic Division. This will be Washington's first look at G Derek Harper in a Knicks uniform. Harper came to New York via a trade with the Dallas Mavericks. For the Bullets, the status of F Don MacLean, who suffered a hip pointer in last week's win over Dallas, is unknown. MacLean did not travel with the team to last night's game at Indiana, and his status is day-to-day. The Bullets have lost six straight to the Knicks, with two of the losses coming earlier this season (92-84 at USAir Arena Nov. 19, and 102-84 at Madison Square Garden Dec. 30).