LANDOVER -- To remove three starters that make up better than 50 percent of the offense would be frightening for most teams. But the Washington Bullets proved again last night that they can win under trying circumstances.
The latest victim of the short-handed Bullets were the Sacramento Kings, a team with the fifth-best record in the Western Conference. And the Bullets were able to win this one rather easily, 117-88, at USAir Arena. Washington improved its record to 18-16.
It's not too often that a team can score 117 points and place just three players in double figures, but that's what the Bullets did when eight players scored at least eight points. Juwan Howard led the way with 29 points and Gheorghe Muresan had 18 points and 16 rebounds, giving him 34 rebounds in his past two games.
But this game was won on defense, as the Kings shot just 41.3 percent. Mitch Richmond, a three-time All-Star who had been averaging 22.2 points, was held to a season-low four points (two of 11 from the field). And Walt Williams, averaging 15.2 points going into last night, had a less-than-stellar homecoming, scoring nine points (four of 10) in 28 minutes against Howard.
"I think [Richmond] just had an off night," said Ledell Eackles, who covered the Kings' star guard most of the night. "I was just trying to play tight on him."
Chris Webber (23.7 points per game), Robert Pack (18.1) and Calbert Cheaney (14.3) account for more than half of the 104.6 points the Bullets were scoring per game going into last night. But the Bullets had little trouble, scoring more than 100 points for the first time in four games.
Want to fault Howard for his game last night? He had zero rebounds. But after getting upset after picking up his third and fourth fouls in the first 30 seconds of the second half, the second-year forward went to work as he hit all seven of his shots in the second half to help make the game a laugher.
"I definitely didn't want the referees to take me out of the game," Howard said. "I had to stay in the game and be strong. You have to find a way to work through calls like that."
Mark Price, in his second game and his first at USAir Arena, had nine points and six assists in 22 minutes. Tim Legler added 13 points for the Bullets, hitting five of his seven shots.
"I'd like to think that it was me," Price said of the team's nice win, with a laugh. "Hopefully, I'm giving them a boost. I feel confident and I'm just trying to establish that presence on the floor."
It was the second time in two weeks that a former crowd favorite from the University of Maryland left USAir Arena a loser. On Dec. 27, the Bullets sent Joe Smith away unhappy in a 115-94 win over Golden State, and last night they did the same to Williams.
The short-handed Bullets looked to put last night's game away early, leading by as many as 17 before the halfway point of the second quarter. But like Wednesday, when the Bullets built a big lead over the Philadelphia 76ers and had to hold them off at the end, the Kings, ended the half on a 20-10 run, and trailed at intermission, 46-39.
Muresan, who came one rebound shy of a triple double against the Sixers, had a huge first half, compiling a double double -- 14 points, 12 rebounds.
"Every time the ball went up, I was under the basket and in good position," Muresan said.
But Price, who hit just two of 11 shots in his Bullets' debut, continued to struggle from the field. Price missed all five of his shots in the first half.
"I'm just trying to get back in rhythm, as much as possible and as soon as possible," said Price.
NOTES: Webber had his shoulder examined yesterday, and the team is hopeful he'll return next week. . . . The Bullets signed Michael Curry to a 10-day contract. A 6-foot-6 guard/forward, Curry was the leading scorer (21.5 ppg) for the Omaha Racers of the CBA. . . . Due to yesterday's snowstorm, the Bullets announced a ticket exchange policy. Fans who couldn't make it to last night's game may exchange them for the Feb. 2 game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Fans who held Canned Food Drive Award Certificates for last night's game can redeem them for the Jan. 27 game against the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Opponent: Toronto Raptors
Site: SkyDome, Toronto
TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WQSI (820 AM)
Outlook: This is the second meeting of the season between the teams, with the expansion Raptors winning at USAir Arena, 103-102, on a last-second shot by G Damon Stoudamire on Nov. 18. The Raptors (9-25) are in the midst of their second-longest losing streak of the season, dropping their past five. Stoudamire (17.6 ppg, 9.1 apg) has established himself as one of the league's top rookies. Former Maryland F Tony Massenburg, who missed the first 26 games with a broken bone in his foot, has won a spot in the starting lineup and is averaging 7.5 points.