Bullets try to home in on range


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Washington Bullets forward Don MacLean was able to approximate where the NBA's new, shooter-friendly three-point line will be. He went to the top of the key, and then he began firing.

Swish, swish, swish. . . . Ten shots, 10 baskets.

Not bad for a guy who hit just three three-point shots last season.

The three-point line has been adjusted to a uniform 22 feet -- it had been 22 feet in the corners but 23 feet, 9 inches beyond the top of the key. It is one of the rule changes that the Bullets will have to adapt to as they officially begin practice this morning at Shepherd College. Most of the changes are designed to increase scoring after a seven-game NBA Finals in which neither the New York Knicks nor the Houston Rockets scored 100 points in a game.

Even with his shooting exhibition earlier this week, MacLean isn't likely to turn into a three-point specialist. He's content with his current range, which is usually well within the three-point arc.

"I've always thought being a three-point shooter and being able to shoot the three-pointer are two different things," MacLean said. "If I spent a lot of time on it, I could do it. But that's not my game. My game is 20 feet and in -- that's where I like to operate."

Several three-point specialists, including Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, have complained that the shorter distance cheapens the shot. Bullets guard Rex Chapman, who made a team-high 64 three-pointers last season, agreed.

"It does cheapen the shot a little bit, and you'll see a lot more guys being able to hit that shot," Chapman said. "But I don't know how it'll affect my game. I don't think about the line when I shoot, anyway."

Calbert Cheaney broke into a slight smile when asked about the shorter distance. He hit just one of 23 three-point attempts last season, short of the production expected from a shooting guard.

"It helps my game," Cheaney said. "For me, I had to get adjusted because it was a long-range shot. By moving it up now, I'll shoot it more and it'll force opponents to respect me farther away from the basket."

The other key change is the prohibiting of hand-checking from the end line in the backcourt to the opposite foul line, a rule that was strictly enforced by officials during summer league games.

" 'Re-teach' is a strong phrase, but with respect to the hand-checking, we're going to have to," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "I saw it enforced in summer leagues and it's going to be an adjustment."

On the labor front, commissioner David Stern's optimistic tone Wednesday about possibly opening the season without a collective bargaining agreement drew mixed feelings. Key among the demands of the players union is the elimination of the salary cap.

"I know they said we can play without an agreement, but I don't see how," MacLean said. "Nothing's really being done about what's going on. Hopefully, they'll be able to get something done before Nov. 4."

At a time when baseball and the NHL are experiencing work stoppages, Cheaney was pleased with Stern's optimistic attitude.

"I'm happy. I don't want a lockout," Cheaney said. "But it's a business thing, and you can't worry too much about it. Hopefully they can resolve it."

* NOTES: Tom Gugliotta and Scott Skiles were named co-captains. Skiles was captain of the Orlando Magic the past four years. . . . Brent Price, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, said he is recovering nicely from surgery.

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