LANDOVER -- For three games, the 1995-96 season had been somewhat of a struggle for Gheorghe Muresan. So there was no better remedy for the 7-foot-7 center than a Charlotte Hornets team that no longer had Alonzo Mourning clogging the middle.
Matt Geiger against Muresan? Too light. George Zidek? Too slow. Larry Johnson? Too short. Muresan was simply too much, scoring a career-high 31 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking a career-high nine shots in last night's 110-96 win before 12,911 at the USAir Arena.
Muresan was unstoppable, hitting 13 of 16 shots from the field. And he came through when the Bullets needed him most. Washington's lead was 88-84 when Muresan entered the game with 9:13 left. From there, he scored the next nine points for the Bullets, with his free throws with 5:19 left giving Washington a 97-86 lead that would hold.
His final points of the game were on a thunderous dunk off a feed from Juwan Howard with 3:31 left. His fourth quarter line: 13 points, five of five from the field, three of three from the line, three rebounds and five blocks. The standing ovation he received when he left the game with 1:33 left was well deserved.
"I told Gheorghe after the game: 'Welcome back,' " Howard said. "Tonight he showed the real Gheorghe Muresan."
But he was not alone in his effort. Calbert Cheaney scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds. Howard had 20 points and seven rebounds. Mitchell Butler came off the bench to score 10 )) points and grab five rebounds. And Robert Pack had 18 assists (one off his career high) to go along with nine points.
In all, the Bullets shot 58.8 percent from the field, and held the Hornets to 37.8 percent. Charlotte is adjusting to the opening day trade that sent Mourning to the Miami Heat for Matt Geiger, Glen Rice and Khalid Reeves. Rice was on fire much of the night, scoring 36 points through three quarters.
Rice demonstrated his worth to the team in the first half, hitting eight of 12 shots (including three of five three-pointers) and scoring 20 points.
Rice would manage just two free throws in the final period when the game was decided, and finished with 38 (13 of 20 from the field, six of eight from three-point range).
"You are not going to win too many games when the other team shoots 59 percent and you shoot under 40 percent," Charlotte coach Allan Bristow said. "We had the tempo that we wanted, but we just couldn't get over the hump defensively.
"[Muresan] had a heck of a game," Bristow added. "He scored and it was like no one could really contest the shot. He probably had his best game as a pro."
And it appeared to come at an inopportune time, considering Muresan's struggles through three games. He was averaging just 20 minutes a game going into last night, mainly because the replacement officials were taking him out of games with quick whistles.
Last night, he was able to play 39 minutes, tying his career high. He only had three fouls.
"The refs gave me a chance, and I don't have too many quick fouls," said Muresan, who is without an interpreter for the first time in his three-year NBA career. "I had a chance to play ball."
And play it well. Geiger wound up fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Zidek was helpless when he had his turn. In the fourth quarter, Bristow tried turning to the 6-foot-5 Johnson, who could offer little resistance.
"I have never played against someone as big as him," said Zidek, a 7-foot, 272-pound rookie out of UCLA. "I played against Shawn Bradley, but [Muresan] is 70 to 80 pounds heavier. He is hard to push off the block and keeps the ball real high. It is impossible to stop him."
Lynam called Muresan's performance "sensational."
"I told the two refs not to call any fouls on Gheorghe," Lynam said, jokingly. "It was one of those nights when he had a lot of shots. He had nine blocks, and I don't know how many intimidations. He was terrific."
Now the key with Muresan is to keep him playing at that level. With Muresan ineffective through three games, Pack was more aggressive offensively, averaging 19.3 points a game. Last night, Pack took just seven shots the entire game, content to just pass the ball to others, especially Muresan.
"Some nights if just works out like that where I don't have to take a lot of shots," Pack said. "When [Muresan] is going like that, there's no telling what kind of game he's capable of having."
Asked whether it was an easier time playing against Charlotte with Mourning gone, Muresan laughed.
"He's not my friend," Muresan said. "I respect him, though. He's a very good player."
And so is Muresan, if he can stay on the court and play the way he did last night.
"More concentration," was Muresan's reason for his big effort. "Last game [Monday at Orlando], I played very bad. But I feel good. I'm ready for the next game."
Which is tomorrow, against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks.
NOTE: With Mark Price having surgery tomorrow and set to go on the injured list, the Bullets will add Mike Peplowski to the roster. Peplowski, a 6-foot-10 center, was a second-round pick of Sacramento in the 1993 draft, playing 55 games with the Kings. He was waived last season, and picked up by the Detroit Pistons, for whom he played in six games.