LANDOVER -- It was early in the fourth quarter at a time when not much was going right for the Washington Bullets when a fan just behind the team's bench offered coach Wes Unseld some sympathetic words.
"Don't worry Wes," the fan said. "There's only 10 more to go."
It was a night when the Bullets were looking to even their win total for last season. Instead Washington ran into a Miami Heat getting primed for the playoffs. After trailing for most of 2 1/2 quarters, the Heat finished strong in its 114-103 win before a crowd of 11,444 at the USAir Arena.
The Bullets had Tom Gugliotta back in the starting lineup, after missing four games with a sprained ankle. And Calbert Cheaney, who has been a reserve since coming off the injured list, was also a starter in a lineup that didn't have a true point guard. But the experimentation, though successful in the early going, wasn't enough to stop Washington from dropping its second straight.
Steve Smith had 26 points and Glenn Rice 21 as six players scored in double figures for the Heat, who were coming off Tuesday's win over the New York Knicks. All five Washington starters scored in double figures, led by Mitchell Butler's career high 26 points.
The key to the game was rebounding: midway through the second quarter, when they led by as many as 11, the Bullets had a 22-14 edge on the boards. From then on Washington was out-rebounded, 29-9, managing just three rebounds in the third quarter.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld opted to go without a true point guard to start the game, starting Calbert Cheaney in place of Brent Price. The strategy -- with Tom Gugliotta starting at center in place of Kevin Duckworth -- worked early as the Bullets got off to an early 12-6 lead after a tip by Gugliotta nearly midway through the opening quarter.
Without a point guard the Bullets were able to play with some offensive balance, with each starter scoring in the opening quarter. They were also able to score some point, leading by as many as eight and taking a 30-24 lead at the end of the quarter.
Don MacLean, averaging 22.4 points in his previous five games going into last night, scored the final eight for Washington at the start of a 10-4 run at the beginning of the second quarter that had the Bullets ahead, 40-30. When Rex Chapman later hit a three-pointer from just left of the key the Bullets had their biggest lead of the half, 45-34, with 6:04 left.
But the Heat slowly began to get back into the game. Harold Miner, Steve Smith and Glenn Rice combined to socre 16 during an 18-8 run that had Miami within 53- 52 after two free throws by Smith with 32.3 seconds left.
But Mitchell Butler, who scored 11 of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter, was able to give the Bullets a slight cushion at the break. First Butler slammed home a midcourt lob pass from Chapman with 22.7 seconds left, followed by a layup with 0.9 seconds left. That was good enough to give Washington a 57-52 halftime lead.
Washington was able to maintain that five minutes through the early minutes of the third quarter, but then the Heat started to play like a playoff team. Trailing, 61-56, Grant Long hit two straight jumpers and Brian Shaw followed with a three-pointer during a 7-1 run. Shaw's shot gave the Heat its first lead of the night, 63-62.
The score was later tied at 70 when the Heat began to take RTC command. A three- pointer by Glenn Rice started Miami on a 14-4 run that, following two free throws by Smith with 1:09 left gave the Heat an 84-74 lead. Miami would take an 88-78 lead into the final quarter.