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Bullets edge Wolves, 99-96, to end slide

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MINNEAPOLIS -- After playing the first quarter like they were teaching an instructional film, the Washington Bullets returned to making horror movies before salvaging a happy ending last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Bullets led by as many as 20 points in the first quarter, frittered it away by early in the third period and then rescued the game to end a six-game losing streak with a 99-96 victory at Target Center.

Calbert Cheaney scored 15 of his team-high 26 points in the second half as the Bullets won for the first time since Jan. 28.

Chris Webber, in his fourth game back after missing 19 games with a separated left shoulder, added 24.

The Bullets had even more trouble containing Wolves guard Isaiah Rider, who scored 34 points, but Minnesota's offensive options were limited after that.

Rider hit a three-pointer with 1:41 left to bring the Wolves to within 96-94. Juwan Howard hit one of two free throws, and a dunk by Donyell Marshall made it 97-96 with 1:07 to play.

Minnesota inbounded the ball with 21 seconds to play and a chance to take the lead, but Sean Rooks was stripped by Howard, Scott Skiles grabbed the loose ball and fed Howard for a game-ending dunk.

"It wasn't like [Howard] was in good position on me or he stripped me or anything," said Rooks. "I thought it was more than enough to draw a foul [call]."

The Bullets and Wolves, each carrying records (11 victories apiece) only the Los Angeles Clippers could envy, seemed like a game in which both teams could find a way to lose. Both did, but the Bullets started the game hardly resembling their recent selves.

The Bullets' front line of Webber, Howard and 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan blocked five shots in the first six minutes, shutting down the Wolves' limited inside game.

When Wolves center Rooks did slip free, he back-rimmed a dunk that turned into back-to-back three-pointers by Skiles and Cheaney and an 18-3 Bullets lead with 7:10 left in the first quarter.

As the Wolves struggled to reach double figures -- and it took them until Rooks' three-point play with 3:01 left in the first quarter to do it -- the Bullets were scoring with flair. Webber hit Skiles with a full-court pass for a layup, then struck a Heisman Trophy pose. The Bullets led 33-17 at the quarter.

But the mercurial Wolves improved from atrocious to mediocre in the second quarter, and the game was a contest once again.

An 11-point run, led by Wolves rookie Marshall, cut the Bullets' lead to 39-30 with 6:19 remaining in the half.

Another seven-point run to open the second half sliced the Bullets' lead to 57-55 with 9:19 left in the third quarter, and the Wolves had their first lead just more than two minutes later when Rider hit a three-pointer to put the Wolves up 64-61.

Minnesota stretched the gap to 77-69 by the start of the fourth quarter, when the Bullets briefly switched to a trapping defense that disrupted the Wolves.

Muresan started a nine-point run with a three-point play, then ended it with a rebound basket as the Bullets retook a 78-77 lead with 9:16 left.

Minnesota briefly snatched the lead on a Rider three-point play with 6:32 to play, but Cheaney answered with a three-pointer 22 seconds later to put the Bullets in front for good.

Cheaney passed the ball, with six assists, and the credit.

"The guys gave me the ball in some good situations that I was able to take advantage of in the fourth quarter," he said.

BULLETS TONIGHT

Opponent: Chicago Bulls

Site: United Center, Chicago

Time: 8:30

TV/Radio: Ch. 20, WGN/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: The Bulls, who are two games below .500 (23-25), lost two straight before the All-Star break. F Scottie Pippen is unhappy in Chicago but is perhaps the best all-around player in the league (21.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 5.3 apg). The Bulls are winless in two games against the Bullets this season. The most recent meeting was at USAir Arena on Jan. 16, a victory that broke a 10-game losing streak for the Bullets. This is the last of five straight road games for the Bullets, who will play host to the Houston Rockets on Friday.

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