Skiles endures back, comes to fore in win


With the grueling pace of the NBA, playing back-to-back games can be a difficult task at age 30.

Compounding that task for Washington Bullets point guard Scott Skiles was a sore back suffered in Thursday night's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. It had many wondering just how much he could give his team last night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

What Skiles gave was his best performance of the season. Playing against Sixers point guard Dana Barros, who is posting numbers worthy of all-star consideration, Skiles scored a season-high 28 points and recorded 10 assists as the Bullets defeated the Sixers, 102-98, before a sellout crowd of 12,756 at Baltimore Arena.

It was the second win in three games for the Bullets, which constitutes a streak for a team that entered the game a loser in 10 of their previous 11 games. The Bullets (9-27) gained a game on the Sixers in a battle of the teams with the worst records in the Eastern Conference.

Skiles brought along a suit last night, just in case his sore back

wouldn't allow him to play. When he left the court just before the starting lineups were announced, some wondered whether he would return.

Not only did he return, he played 41 minutes. He missed just one shot (eight of nine from the field, and three of three from the free-throw line).

"What I've found over the years is that the more I play, the more guys begin to trust me and look for me," Skiles said of his minutes. "That has happened lately."

Skiles has gone the marathon of late, as backup point guard Doug Overton had averaged just eight minutes a game in his five games before last night. Overton was right around that last night, spelling Skiles for seven minutes.

"He's been terrific. He's having a great stretch," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "He has really stepped up. He's a veteran leader and he has really been looking for opportunities to score. He's one of those players who thinks he plays better the more minutes he plays."

As long as Skiles can play like he did last night, Lynam won't mind giving the minutes to him. Four of Washington's five starters scored in double figures, with Calbert Cheaney adding 25 to tie his season high. Juwan Howard and Rex Chapman each responded from slow starts (each was 1-for-8 from the field in the first half) to score 15 and 17 points, respectively.

The Bullets were lucky not to have been buried in the first half, when they were outshot 51.3 percent to 36.5 percent and still managed a 52-52 tie.

The Sixers got a big third quarter from Barros, who scored 18 points and helped Philadelphia take an 80-78 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Philadelphia's lead was 93-88 with 4:19 left after two free throws by Sharone Wright (18 points). But Skiles hit a jumper, then a three-pointer to tie the game at 93. Then Chapman hit a three-pointer with 2:27 left for a 96-93 lead and the Bullets never looked back.

"We had control of the game with three minutes to go," Sixers coach John Lucas said. "We let them score two threes at critical times and gave them confidence to get back in it."

The game was a learning experience for Barros, who got schooled on defense, mostly by Skiles.

"We can't make excuses," Barros said. "I didn't play defense, I have no excuse. The responsibility has been put on me and [Clarence Weatherspoon], and at the end of the game we didn't get it done."

Weatherspoon and Barros combined to score just three points in the fourth quarter, not the contribution you would expect from your top two scorers.

"Fatigue was a factor for us, but we've got to play better defense down the stretch," Lucas said. "I'm proud that we're competing, but it's a very disappointing loss."

The Bullets, who have had their share of those, were happy to finally come out on the winning side of a close game. With a game tomorrow against the New Jersey Nets, the Bullets have a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since November, when they beat the Miami Heat and New Jersey on consecutive days.

"I see things getting better as far as attitude and confidence," Howard said. "At first we had a monkey on our back with the 10-game losing streak. But we stopped looking back."

NOTES: Kevin Duckworth's brother suffered a heart attack, and the center was not at last night's game. Duckworth, the subject of trade rumors, returned home to Chicago and will miss at least two games. . . . Chris Webber was on the bench without the sling that he had been wearing on his left shoulder since he suffered the separation in December. Webber plans to start shooting around Monday, and still hopes to be back in early February.

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