LANDOVER -- The Washington Bullets took a roller-coaster ride with the New York Knicks last night. It wasn't quite a thrill-a-minute journey, but the end produced an all-too-familiar empty feeling.
It has been more than two years (Nov. 13, 1992) since the Bullets last beat the Knicks. So last night's 89-81 setback at USAir Arena hardly fell into the category of the unexpected.
This time, however, the Bullets had a chance to win. The Knicks played sporadically at times and the Bullets were able to build significant leads in each half. But in the long run, the obvious difference in talent ruled the night.
Thanks to a 36-point outing by Patrick Ewing and a 21-5 run late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, the Knicks beat the Bullets for the 12th straight time. And, if the win was unspectacular, it was decidedly methodical.
For Ewing, the game was as much a chore as a challenge. He needed 36 shots, one less than his career high, to score his 36 points.
"I had to take the shots," he said. "They weren't doubling, so I had to take them. We just wanted to get the win and get out of town."
For the second straight game, the Bullets wasted a superb performance by Gheorghe Muresan, their 7-foot-7-inch center, who challenged but couldn't completely contain Ewing. Muresan, who had a career-high 21 points in Tuesday's 106-93 loss to Chicago, had 17 points this time, to go with a half-dozen blocked shots, as many rebounds and four steals.
But that was hardly enough to make up for the Bullets' miserable shooting. Playing before a franchise record 23rd sellout of the season (18,756), the Bullets managed only 30 field goals in 82 attempts (36.6 percent).
"We did a good job on their guards," said Knicks coach Pat Riley. We really focused on [Calbert] Cheaney and [Rex] Chapman. That was the design, not to let them go off from the perimeter."
About Muresan's effort, Riley said: "He doesn't surprise me anymore. He is one of the most improved players in the league. He is so tough and he takes up so much room."
The Knicks were able to shoot only 44 percent themselves, but that was enough to provide a decided advantage considering the way the Bullets were misfiring.
"By the numbers, they [the Knicks] are the best defensive team in the league," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said of the Knicks. "I'm sure that had something to do with it [the Bullets' poor shooting].
"But against them, you have to make more perimeter shots that we made," said Lynam. Other than Muresan's ability to jam missed shots, Juwan Howard (20) and Chris Webber (15) again were the Bullets' principal threats.
But Cheaney (2-for-10, seven points) remained in a shooting slump, and when they had a chance to steal the game in the fourth quarter, the Bullets seemingly had nowhere to turn.
They went eight minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter, and that drought enabled the Knicks to turn out the lights.
Previously the Bullets had built a 20-13 lead in the first quarter and a 62-54 advantage in the third period. But neither time were they able to take control of the game.
John Starks made three three-pointers in scoring 11 of his 21 points in the second quarter, and Ewing moved away from Muresan for medium range jumpers that kept the Bullets at bay.
NOTE: After the game, Lynam revealed that Kevin Duckworth, who had twice been suspended for poor physical condition, was going home to have his left Achilles' tendon surgically repaired. He will miss the rest of the season.