Bullets down Lakers, 124-118


LANDOVER -- Help finally arrived for the struggling Washington Bullets last night.

There was Rex Chapman, two games into his comeback from a dislocated ankle, scoring 22 points, including eight in the fourth quarter when the Bullets needed it most.

There was Kenny Walker, playing with a plastic shield to protect his injured cheekbone, giving the Bullets 17 valuable minutes inside.

And there was Michael Adams, who rediscovered his long-range shooting touch to score a season-high 29 points.

On a night when the Bullets showed what might have been this season, they outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers, 124-118, before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

The Bullets shot a season-high 58 percent and had four players with 22 points or more. Tom Gugliotta had 25 and Don MacLean 24.

The Bullets needed all of that, too, even with the Lakers playing on back-to-back nights in the middle of a four-game road swing.

Spurred by Adams' shooting in the second quarter, when he nailed five straight three-point shots, the Bullets led by 16 early in the second half.

The Lakers, who hadn't lost here since Dec. 9, 1989, stormed back. Getting 32 points from Sedale Threatt and 22 from Vlade Divac, they got as close as three, and were only down by four with 14.9 seconds left.

"We've had a tendency to let up in the fourth quarter and teams have beaten us," Chapman said after playing 38 minutes. "[But] everybody played well, and it was a good win for us, especially to win a tight one."

Chapman missed 21 games after suffering a dislocated right ankle Jan. 17 in San Antonio. He was activated for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, when he scored 10 points in 31 minutes.

Last night his offensive game was up to speed. "Overall, he's there," coach Wes Unseld said. "But I'm not happy with his defense. I don't think he is, either. That's tougher to come back from. Your shooting will be there, but the sharp cuts and explosive moves you need on defense are things that take time."

Adams was perhaps the man who most felt the impact of Chapman's return to the starting lineup. When the Lakers gave him room in the first quarter, he turned sharpshooter.

In a torrid six-minute stretch, Adams bombed in five straight three-pointers. That tied the club record for three-pointers in a half. He hit a sixth in the fourth quarter to tie his own club record for a single game.

"Any time you get a player the caliber of Rex back, it makes our job easier," Adams said. "It opens up everything inside."

Adams scored 17 points in the first quarter, and the Bullets opened a 71-57 halftime lead. That was their most productive half of the season, and the 39-point first period was their best quarter.

By the fourth quarter, most of that cushion had dissipated as Nick Van Exel (13 of his 19 points) directed the comeback.

The Bullets led only 95-92 lead starting the fourth quarter. With 7:51 left, after George Lynch's lay-in, it was still a precarious three-point advantage, 101-98.

But Chapman hit a jump shot to launch a 9-2 Bullets run. Gugliotta and Pervis Ellison had back-to-back dunks to make it 107-98. After another basket by Lynch, Adams winged in his final three-pointer to open a 10-point lead, 110-100.

It was enough to get the Bullets through the final four minutes. The Lakers got as close as four on two free throws by Threatt with 14.9 seconds left. But Adams answered by hitting both ends of a one-and-one at 12.6 to ice the victory.

The Lakers were impressed.

"They're a good offensive team," coach Randy Pfund said of the Bullets. "They have a lot of weapons to choose from. I don't know who they've been playing lately, but if they played us every night, I think they'd be right in the game."

Said Threatt: "They're a big-time scoring team. I can't believe their record is what it is."

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