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Price in starting gate, but Webber is a scratch Bullets save forward for Rockets tomorrow


BOWIE -- After playing six games as a reserve, averaging more than 20 minutes a game while filling in for younger brother Brent, Mark Price was asked whether he was ready to assume a starting role.

"That's tough," Mark Price said. "That has to be Coach [Jim] Lynam's decision."

Well, the decision has been made. Price, who missed the first 32 games after heel surgery, is expected to get his first start in a Washington uniform tonight when the Bullets travel to Charlotte, N.C., to face the Hornets.

It gets the Bullets a step closer to having the starting lineup that was envisioned when Price came over in the trade with Cleveland before the start of training camp. The only thing keeping that lineup -- Price, Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan, Calbert Cheaney and Chris Webber -- from becoming a reality is that Webber won't play tonight as a precautionary measure to protect his left shoulder. Webber, who practiced yesterday, plans to play tomorrow against the defending NBA champion Houston Rockets.

"It's hard sitting out because I feel good, but the more fatigued my arm is, the more chance of it coming out [of socket]," said Webber, who just returned Friday after missing 10 games with a strain of his twice-separated shoulder. "These back-to-back games, I'm going to keep away from for now. We're just preparing me to make it to the second half of the season. When we get to the second half, then we'll try to hit it with a full head of steam."

Cheaney, who turned his right ankle in Friday's win over New Jersey and wound up missing Sunday's game in Indiana, returns to the starting lineup tonight.

"People thought it might have been the same injury, but it's not," said Cheaney, referring to the strained ligaments in his foot that caused him to miss 11 games before Friday. "It's going to take a couple of days for it to get better. But I'm ready to go."

And he's ready to play alongside Price, too.

"Mark obviously makes players better because he can pass, he can push the ball, he can shoot it," Cheaney said. "He's the best pick-and-roll guard I've ever seen. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Cheaney said he's not worried about chemistry, or possibly the lack of chemistry.

"We're professionals, so it shouldn't bother us too much," Cheaney said. "He likes the no-look [passes], and you have to be prepared for something like that. There's no excuses."

Price, who was frustrated by players "just standing around" in an assist-less game Sunday, said there will be some adjusting to his new teammates.

"I know everything's not going to be perfect right now," said Price, who still is limiting his minutes as his foot gets stronger. "The more I'm out there, that's going to make it better. I have to learn the team, learn the system. It's fine in the preseason when the games don't count. But now you want to win games."

NOTES: The Bullets made a decision on two players who just completed 10-day contracts: Bob McCann was signed to a second 10-day contract, while Michael Curry was not. . . . Ledell Eackles (injured list -- left Achilles' tendinitis) said he should return to the team Saturday when the Bullets play host to the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies.

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Charlotte Hornets

Site: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: When the Bullets played New Jersey on Friday, they didn't have to face G Kenny Anderson, who earlier that day had been traded. Washington gets to see Anderson tonight in his debut with the Hornets. Bullets F Chris Webber did not travel, with the team trying to avoid having him play back-to-back games. He's expected to play tomorrow against Houston. This is the teams' second meeting of the season. Washington won, 110-96, on Nov. 8.

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