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Bullets' trouble centers on big men

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAN ANTONIO -- In the aftermath of Saturday's 111-89 loss at Denver, the Washington Bullets marveled at how 7-foot-2 Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo was able to dominate the middle. Unfortunately for the Bullets, they've yet to see the best of the Western Conference centers.

But they will during the next two nights, with the Bullets facing David Robinson tonight in San Antonio and last season's MVP, Hakeem Olajuwon, tomorrow night in Houston.

Tonight's game probably will feature the season debut of Spurs forward Dennis Rodman, who was suspended at the start of the season "for conduct detrimental to the best interests of the San Antonio Spurs."

Originally suspended for the first three games of the season, Rodman -- after three missed practices -- then was given a paid leave of absence for 3 1/2 weeks.

Rodman was scheduled to rejoin the team last week, but again missed practice, bringing last year's rebounding leader an indefinite suspension. After a meeting with coach Bob Hill, Rodman was activated on Friday.

Obviously in the Christmas spirit, Rodman's sporting a green hairdo. He traveled with the team to Houston on Saturday, but did not attend that night's game. San Antonio's starters had the day off yesterday, but Rodman practiced with the team's reserves.

The Bullets are hoping to have leading scorer Rex Chapman back in uniform tonight. He sat out Saturday's game with a sore right groin muscle. Coach Jim Lynam said that the injury had nothing to do with the cartwheels Chapman was doing while fooling around in practice on Friday. However he got hurt, his injury was a blow to the Bullets, who were 3-for-9 on three-pointers Saturday.

"It's really a problem not having Rex," said forward Chris Webber, who missed all three of his three-pointers. "We need his outside shooting. It's hard not to have that, but we didn't play well [Saturday]."

Washington scored a season-low 89 points, and was held to 14 points in the first quarter when the Nuggets opened up the game. With Calbert Cheaney and Anthony Tucker moving into the starting lineup because of injuries to Chapman and Don MacLean (sore knees), it hurt Washington's production off the bench. Denver's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (31 points) helped Denver's reserves outscore Washington's 67-28.

"Obviously it hurts," Lynam said. "But you have to step up. That's what this thing's about. You produce when you get your opportunities."

Bullets center Kevin Duckworth, coming off a season-high 20 points at Dallas on Thursday, was limited to nine points against Mutombo, hitting four of 12 shots in 33 minutes.

Against the Spurs, Washington will have to do a better job with its defensive rotations. At 6-1, Abdul-Rauf several times used his quickness to attack the basket and scored without much of an effort. Once he caught Cheaney napping, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a layup over Duckworth.

"Our team defense was terrible," Webber said. "The loss had nothing to do with us not knowing each other. We just didn't play well."

Several times the Nuggets ran Abdul-Rauf and Robert Pack together in the backcourt, and despite their size both used their quickness to cause problems on the offensive end.

And then there was the defensive presence of Mutombo, who had nine points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. And now the Bullets face another dominant center in Robinson, who is second in the league in rebounding (13.0) and third in both scoring (28.0) and blocks (3.2).

"The first and obvious problem with San Antonio is David," Lynam said. "He's a terrific scorer and causes a lot of problems."

He was able to sit back and assume a secondary role against the Rockets, as point guard Avery Johnson (24 points), and Chuck Person (22) and Sean Elliott (20) all had big games.

"They're able to come at you with a lot of balance," Lynam said. "Johnson is playing well and Sean Elliott's a fine player."

And still the team has struggled this season, entering tonight with an 8-9 record. Rodman can be a problem, but he's still the best rebounder in the game.

"You take one of your best players away from the team, and it's going to affect you," Lynam said. "He's been out all year, but he'll probably go against us."

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