Bullets see another lead disappear


LANDOVER -- It was a night when the Washington Bullets would set season records for points in a half, and points in a quarter. It was a night when Calbert Cheaney couldn't miss, and Chris Webber started out dominating. It was a night when the Bullets had a 14-point lead against one of the best teams in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns.

But it was also another night to remember that with the Bullets, big leads are not enough. You can look it up against Philadelphia. And Golden State. And Cleveland. And now against the Suns who, after being outplayed for three quarters last night, rallied for a 127-123 win over the Bullets before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

The Suns were struggling going into the game with two straight losses and having fallen to fourth in the Western Conference. They were coming off Tuesday's embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors. And they had a four-game road trip through Texas and the West Coast interrupted in the middle with a detour through Landover to make up the game here in December that was postponed because of condensation on the arena floor.

But Phoenix prevailed, leading by as many as 10 in the final quarter, then holding off a late Bullets rally. The Suns improved to 52-22, while handing the Bullets (18-55) their ninth straight defeat.

"The best team won," said Suns forward Charles Barkley, who led his team with 25 points. "They played a great first half, but we were a little disappointed about flying here across the country."

Phoenix is not a team that's known for its defense, but the matador style of the Suns was downright ridiculous. Washington scored 41 points in the first quarter and had 77 points at the half -- both season-highs. It was a style that Webber, who led all scorers with 29 points, remembers from his days with the Warriors last season in the wide-open Western Conference.

"I definitely love this type of game," Webber said. "I've never been in a game when we've scored 40 points in a quarter. The faster the pace, the more exciting it makes the game."

There was no lack of excitement in the first half. Webber had 20 at the half, hitting seven of 12 shots. And Cheaney scored 19 points, hitting seven of 11 shots. The Bullets shot 59.6 percent in the half, committed just three turnovers and had a 77-64 halftime lead.

While the Suns' Wesley Person (22 points) and Dan Majerle (15) did damage outside, Wayman Tisdale did the dirty work inside. He finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

But the biggest blow of the night for Phoenix was the inadvertent elbow Barkley delivered to Cheaney, opening a cut on his left eyelid that required five stitches. Cheaney left the game with 4:28 left in the third and the Bullets leading by nine. By the end of the quarter Washington's lead was 96-91, and the momentum had swung in favor of the Suns.

"We were playing real well as a team," said Cheaney, a bandage over his eye, after the game. "I tried to come back, but after I got the stitches my vision was blurry."

And the rest of the night was blurry for the Bullets, who later saw Don MacLean pull up with an injured left ankle in the third quarter. By game's end, coach Jim Lynam had seven healthy players.

NOTES: Scott Skiles missed his 11th straight game with injuries to his right wrist and left knee, and Lynam doesn't expect him back this season. . . . Rex Chapman warmed up before the game, but did not play because of a pulled abdominal muscle. He has missed 26 games this season.


Opponent: Charlotte Hornets

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: HTS/WTEM (570 AM), WWLG (1360 AM)

Outlook: This will be the last game of a brutal stretch for the Bullets, who conclude three games in three nights against three playoff teams. The Hornets are in a battle for the top spot in the Central Division, three games behind the Indiana Pacers. An 84-66 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday gave the Hornets a two-game winning streak. C Alonzo Mourning (21.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg) leads Charlotte. The Hornets are 2-1 against Washington this season.

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