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Bullets fall again on long, hard road

THE BALTIMORE SUN

HOUSTON -- After last night's loss to the Houston Rockets, the only thing the Washington Bullets can be thankful for is that their four-game road trip is over.

It started last Thursday with an impressive overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks, but the Bullets lost their third straight last night to the defending NBA champion Rockets, 93-85, at The Summit.

The Bullets (6-11) last night were able to do what few teams can -- contain last year's Most Valuable Player, Hakeem Olajuwon. He scored 19 points, seven below his average.

But there was no answer defensively for Otis Thorpe, who scored a season-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to tie Olajuwon. Thorpe hit 10 of his 15 shots to lead a balanced Houston attack with all five starters scoring 12 or more points.

"Don't forget, Otis Thorpe gets to play with the best player in the game," said Bullets forward Chris Webber, who spent part of the night guarding both Thorpe and Olajuwon. "Sometimes when we concentrated too much on Hakeem, we neglected Otis. The points Olajuwon didn't score, Otis did."

And while the Rockets were able to score, the Bullets weren't. Playing their third straight game without Rex Chapman (sore groin muscle) and Don MacLean (tendinitis in both knees), Washington at times was clueless on offense. Webber's 22 points led four players in double figures, but as a team the Bullets shot just 36.8 percent.

It really hurt in the fourth quarter, when Washington was able to trim a 15-point deficit to five. It seemed any time the Bullets were on the verge of getting back into the game, they either missed an easy shot or failed to execute the offense.

"We need to start making the open shots," Lynam said. "Our defense had to get better than it had been in the previous two games."

San Antonio shot 55.3 percent against Washington on Monday.

Credit the defensive turnaround to 7-foot-7 center Gheorghe Muresan. He didn't score much (five points) and he didn't play a lot (17 minutes). But when he was on the court, the Rockets shot just six of 26 from the field (Houston was 25-for-41 with Muresan out of the game).

"That guy can change a game," said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

And he also can provide a little comic relief in a strong effort coming after an ineffective five-minute stint in San Antonio.

"I have only had two practices," said Muresan, who just came off the injury list. "I can't play like Michael Jordan without any practice."

Muresan couldn't play like Jordan with a lifetime of practice. But what the Bullets are sorely missing right now is a player who can take over a game offensively.

Webber, who had 16 rebounds, led the team in scoring, but struggled from the field (nine of 23). Calbert Cheaney's 16 points came on seven of 18 shooting, which is respectable after he missed his first eight shots.

It just further demonstrated how badly the Bullets miss Chapman and MacLean.

"If we would have hit the shots we normally make, it is an entirely different game," said center Kevin Duckworth, who had three points in 23 minutes. "We missed an awful lot of easy shots in the first quarter."

That's when the Bullets shot 28.0 percent. Washington had led, 7-4, but was blindsided by a 24-8 Houston run led by Thorpe and Kenny Smith. Thorpe would score 14 points in that quarter and Smith eight en route to a 30-19 lead.

Muresan started the second quarter, and made a quick impact. Houston was forced to a perimeter game and hit three field goals -- all jumpers -- in the first six minutes. But when Muresan sat, the Rockets moved inside for a 47-34 halftime lead.

Washington would fall behind by as many as 17 in the third quarter, but then came back in the fourth quarter. That final run at least had Webber in a better mood than on Monday, when he was visibly upset after the 21-point loss to the Spurs.

"I usually don't get encouraged by losses, but in this game we showed a lot of character," Webber said.

NOTES: The Bullets return home for two games, hosting Utah on Thursday and Minnesota on Saturday. On Monday they leave on a four-game, five-day road trip that starts in Phoenix. . . Former Dunbar High star Sam Cassell, who got in early foul trouble, had just one point in 14 minutes for Houston.

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