LANDOVER -- Faced with the dubious distinction of setting a franchise record of nine consecutive losses at home, the Washington Bullets combined playoff-type defense and clutch shooting by Calbert Cheaney, Juwan Howard and Rex Chapman in the last five minutes to beat the Chicago Bulls, 109-101, yesterday at USAir Arena.
All told, the Bullets (8-26) had dropped 10 straight since beating the Clippers in Los Angeles on Dec. 23, and coach Jim Lynam and his players tried to keep this emotional victory in perspective.
"We needed a win more than anything," said Lynam. "It [the losing streak] was discouraging and frustrating, especially because we were playing with a lot of energy. Hopefully, this will be a confidence booster. We'll wait and see."
For point guard Scott Skiles (18 points, 12 assists), there was a more encouraging sign.
"We could be happy for just winning after such a long slide," Skiles said, "but the fact that we played well when we had to was more important."
Cheaney, who missed most of the first half after picking up three fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes guarding Bulls superstar Scottie Pippen, was the offensive catalyst in the fourth quarter when he scored 14 of his team-high 23 points.
"I was really upset for being so tentative in the first half, and Pippen took advantage of me," said Cheaney. "I said to myself, 'I can play as good as Pippen.' I just wanted to be aggressive in the second half, attack the basket and put the Bulls back on their heels."
With a capacity Martin Luther King Jr. Day crowd of 18,756 roaring in approval, the Bullets, who have crumbled so often in crunch time, managed to put it together on both ends of the floor.
The Bulls (18-18) were leading 94-93 with 5:15 left when the Bullets began their winning surge.
Howard (22 points, nine rebounds), forced to play extended minutes as a rookie because of the absence of frontcourt players Chris Webber, Don MacLean and Kevin Duckworth, put Washington ahead with a quick spin move out of the low post.
After a series of missed shots by both teams, the Bullets called a timeout just before the 24-second clock expired.
With only one second remaining, Skiles delivered a clutch 20-foot jump shot for a 97-94 cushion.
"I could tell I'd be open by the way Steve Kerr was guarding me," Skiles said. "[Forward] Corie Blount made a run at me, so I just shot it a little higher than usual."
A three-pointer by Chapman and baskets by Howard and Cheaney raised the lead to 104-97 with 40 seconds left and ended a month of Bullets misery.
"Tonight," said Skiles, "we just did a much better job of passing the ball and finding the open man when they doubled down on Howard and 'Ghitza' [Gheorghe Muresan]. And this time, we hit most of them."
Indeed. The Bullets, who were out-rebounded 50-36, made the most of their shooting opportunities, hitting 51 percent (43-for-84) from the field and 9-for-17 from three-point territory.
But it was mostly the tenacious defense that held Bulls forwards Pippen and Toni Kukoc to a combined 9-for-32 shooting and proved the difference.
"Juwan did an excellent job on Kukoc and Cheaney shut down Pippen in the second half," said Lynam. "Plus we got a big defensive lift from Jim McIlvaine," who had four blocks in 14 minutes.
Howard's performance was in keeping with his rapid development over the past month.
"He's been solid as a rock," said Lynam, "the one guy who has played consistently well for us. It took him about three weeks just to find his way to the arena. Now he's doing everything we ask of him."
Phil Jackson, faced with rebuilding his once-dominant Bulls following Michael Jordan's retirement and the loss of Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright, could find nothing positive to say about his team's effort.
"We just showed a lot of selfishness out there, with guys trying to do it themselves," said Jackson. "It's become a disease."
Lynam, on the other hand, can only hope winning becomes contagious.
Reminded that the Bullets are now 2-0 against the Bulls after winning their first meeting in Chicago Nov. 5, Lynam cracked, "It seems like that happened in a different century."
NOTE: The Bullets are shopping Duckworth, who is sidelined with a sore Achilles' tendon. The Boston Celtics reportedly have offered forward Xavier McDaniel in exchange, but want the Bullets to add a second-round pick, which is the sticking point.
KRAUSE IN NO RUSH TO DEAL PIPPEN
Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause insisted yesterday he has not initiated any trade talks involving forward Scottie Pippen, who has asked to leave Chicago.
"Sure, several teams have called us," Krause said, "but neither I nor [owner] Jerry Reinsdorf have called anyone regarding Pippen."
Krause acknowledged that Pippen, who reportedly is earning $2.1 million this season, is "a great player, one of the three best players in the game, if you don't include centers."
Asked if he had sought a reconciliation with his team leader, Krause said, "That's an in-house matter I won't comment on. But as far as I'm concerned, if a player gives 100 percent on the court, that's all I care about. And Scottie's doing that.
"I love him as a player, but that doesn't mean I have to go fishing with him."
Both the Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers already have said they can not afford a Pippen deal. "They [the Bulls] want to tear your whole team apart," said 76ers coach John Lucas.