Ailing Bullets aim to end slide


BOWIE -- As the Washington Bullets finished practice yesterday and prepared to fly to Atlanta for tonight's game against the Hawks, Don MacLean's team travel bag was among those loaded onto the team van. So was the bag of Juwan Howard. And Rex Chapman. All three players are making the two-game road trip that concludes tomorrow night against the New York Knicks.

But whether the trio will be available as the Bullets look to end their season-high, 11-game losing streak remains to be seen.

MacLean on Monday received an injection in his right hand, hoping to relieve the pain that persists from a broken right thumb suffered on New Year's Eve. He may not play on this trip.

Chapman also might miss both games, having sat out three straight with a strained abdominal muscle. The good news is that Howard, who has missed 10 games with a sprained right ankle, finally might get clearance to play against the Hawks.

If trainers were paid overtime, then Kevin Johnson of the Bullets might be a rich man for dealing with the aches and pains of a team whose total man-games lost to injury or illness is 279 going into tonight.

Scott Skiles (right wrist and left knee) and Kevin Duckworth (calcium deposits in left ankle) are already on the injured list, and aren't expected back this season.

MacLean is the team's latest casualty, complaining of the pain in his hand after Sunday's loss to the Celtics. MacLean has averaged just 7.0 points in his last five games, and his inability to shoot the ball well has left him frustrated.

"My strength since high school has been to be consistent," MacLean said yesterday. "I don't score 40 points, then score five. Last year, I was between 15 and 25 every night. "I know when I'm healthy I'm a lot better player than what I've showed," he said.

The injection MacLean received on Monday was near the base of his right thumb. He said team doctors have told him to take two or three weeks off, but he's making the trip anyway.

"If I would guess, I probably won't play on the trip," MacLean said. "At this point, I'd rather get this thing right. Honestly, what have I done to help this team the last two weeks? If I'm not making shots or getting to the foul line, what good am I?"

The injuries that have kept MacLean out of 41 games (he had tendinitis in both knees earlier this season) may have had a short-term effect financially. MacLean turned down a two-year, $12 million contract extension offer before the season, hoping a good season would pay dividends when he becomes a restricted free agent after the season.

Now, MacLean hopes to sign a one-year deal at the end of the season with the thought that a good performance next season would bring him big dollars as an unrestricted free agent.

"It's easy to say, 'Give me a long-term contract. I was hurt last year, and it won't happen again,' " MacLean said. "I'm going to come back strong next year. And if I have a one-year deal, then I'll be unrestricted after next season."

To do that, MacLean will have to return to his form of last season, when he averaged 18.2 points and won the league's Most Improved Player award.

"The last two weeks are no indication of me and the team," MacLean said.


Opponent: Atlanta Hawks

Site: The Omni, Atlanta

Time: 7:30

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

Outlook: The Bullets look to end their losing streak at 11 games, as they face an Atlanta team that, with the seventh best record in the Eastern Conference, is playoff bound. The Hawks (37-38) will be without F Ken Norman, who has a sore back. There's a chance F Juwan Howard will return tonight for the Bullets, who have not won since he sprained his right ankle against Cleveland on March 19.

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