LANDOVER -- This time, there would be no one to deny Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan his special moment.
On Tuesday, Muresan scored 13 points in the final quarter against the Indiana Pacers, only to have his best game ruined by Reggie Miller's jumper in the final seconds. But yesterday, Muresan capped his rookie season with his finest game in the NBA, outplaying All-Star Alonzo Mourning in Washington's 117-99 rout of the Charlotte Hornets before 18,756 at the USAir Arena.
The 7-foot-7 rookie and crowd favorite scored a career-high 21 and grabbed 11 rebounds, as the Bullets ended the season with a strong effort by some of the younger players that figure to assume prominent roles under their new coach next season.
"It feels good," Muresan said, in the midst of the chaotic locker room that followed the announcement of coach Wes Unseld's resignation. "I'm glad we won the game."
Muresan was one of five Bullets in double figures. Second-year forward Tom Gugliotta scored 31 and grabbed 18 rebounds (both one short of career highs).
It was Muresan who had the biggest impact, squeezing his numbers into 23 productive minutes. The rookie hit 10 of 13 shots from the field, and it was his six straight points early in the fourth quarter that gave the Bullets a bit of breathing room after the Hornets cut what had been a 17-point Washington lead to a point.
"Philadelphia is hoping that [7-6 rookie] Shawn Bradley turns out that way, where he can put on weight and keep his position in the low post," said Charlotte forward Eddie Johnson. "Muresan's got that now."
Charlotte was playing with no real incentive, having been eliminated from the playoffs Thursday. And the Hornets were without point guard Muggsy Bogues. The former Dunbar High star missed the game because his wife was ill.
Yet the Hornets were able to pull to 83-82 after a free throw by LeRon Ellis just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
Then Muresan took over. First, he grabbed a loose ball and slammed it home. Then, he scored on a turnaround jumper from the baseline. Then, it was a rebound and another dunk. The six straight points by Muresan increased Washington's lead to 89-82.