BOSTON -- If there was ground to be gained by the Washington Bullets, last night was a good opportunity.
The Boston Celtics were struggling, carrying a two-game losing streak. And the Celtics were short-handed, losing two key players in the third quarter.
But the Celtics had enough, coasting to a 114-101 win over the Bullets before 14,890 at Boston Garden.
It was the eighth straight loss for the Bullets, and the 16th over the past 17 games. Washington dropped to 7-24 (worst start in franchise history) with the loss and fell 5 1/2 games behind the Celtics -- the team that holds the eighth spot in the horrendous Eastern Conference.
Dominique Wilkins hurt the Bullets early, scoring 24 of his 34 points in the first half. And Dino Radja, just activated from the injured list earlier in the day, hurt Washington late as he scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
As far as balanced scoring, the Bullets did OK with all five starters in double figures. Scott Skiles led the way with 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds -- one rebound away from a triple-double. And Gheorghe Muresan scored a season-high 19 points, two shy of his career high.
But the Bullets had balance in their turnovers as well. Juwan Howard, Calbert Cheaney, Rex Chapman and Skiles each had four turnovers -- accounting for 16 of Washington's 22 for the game.
"We hung," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "The only thing I didn't like was turning the ball over."
With the ease with which the Celtics coasted to the win, it's hard to believe that the Bullets had an 11-point lead in the second quarter. However that lead, coming after Muresan's hook shot with 6:04 left in the half put the Bullets ahead 46-35, didn't hold up to halftime.
A 15-4 run by the Celtics over the final 3:14 saw to that. Boston's last three field goals came on three-pointers, with Rick Fox's with 1.1 seconds left giving it a 60-57 lead.
The Celtics never looked back.
"We had our share of opportunities," said Cheaney, who scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds. "We just gave the ball away -- that's how they got back into the game."
It ruined a dominant first half by Muresan. After two early fouls limited him to three minutes in the first quarter, Muresan was in command over the first six minutes of the second.
During that stretch he scored 11 points, abusing Celtics rookie center Eric Montross. He finished the half hitting six of seven shots, and scoring 15 points. It made one forget that Kevin Duckworth, who will be out at least the next 10 days after getting an injection yesterday for his sore right Achilles' tendon, was missing.
The Bullets were up eight points when Muresan sat down for the final 3:17 of the half -- the time that the Celtics took control of the game.
"I was impressed with Muresan," Celtics coach Chris Ford said. "He's a definite threat."
To be an offensive threat you have to shoot, and Muresan had just two shot attempts in the second half. That's the half in which Montross (injured right eye) and Pervis Ellison -- both starters for Boston -- left the game for good.
"I always like having the ball," said Muresan, asked whether he would have liked it more over the final 24 minutes. "But the second half we played more collectively."
Asked whether he noticed the injuries that left the Celtics short-handed, Muresan said no.
"Either way," Muresan said, "I think I would have been able to dominate inside."
To find the player who dominated the inside in the second half, just check under the name Radja. An assortment of short jumpers made it appear that he never missed the past 15 games. Radja suffered a fracture in his right hand on Dec. 6.
"I didn't know what to do in the beginning," Radja said. "I was feeling kind of scared and I was acting like a rookie. It's all about confidence."
Which is something the Bullets appear to have been robbed of. Washington had six of its turnovers in the fourth quarter, and never got closer than five points. Wilkins picked up his fifth foul with 5:45 left, but the Bullets never capitalized.
"We tried to get the sixth on Nique, but they made a switch," said Lynam. "He had a monster first half."
And the Bullets could never recover from that, adding on to a series of tough losses. "They're all tough," Chapman said. "It's not any tougher than losing the other night, or the other night."
Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: Friday against the Bullets, Lenny Wilkens notched career victory No. 939 to claim the record for all-time coaching wins. Tonight the Hawks, who had lost three straight before the record-breaker, come to the USAir Arena having won two straight. G Stacey Augmon (16.3 ppg) and G Mookie Blaylock (15.5 ppg) are the top scorers for the Hawks. The Bullets have lost eight in a row.