LANDOVER -- Watching his team sleepwalk through the first half last night against the Portland Trail Blazers only reaffirmed rTC coach Jim Lynam's concerns about the Washington Bullets' six-day break.
"We were a little out of sync," Juwan Howard said of a first half in which the Bullets had no fast-break points. "We had six days off, and we forgot what game situations were like."
But it all came back in the third quarter, when the Bullets outscored the Blazers, 41-2, then held off a late Portland rally for a 113-97 win before 18,756 at USAir Arena.
It was the third straight win for the Bullets (22-21), who finished their first season sweep of Portland since the 1985-86 season. Washington had lost 10 of its previous 11 games to the Blazers going into this season.
The Bullets' 22 victories are one more than they had all of last season.
Balance from the starting five -- all of whom scored in double figures -- got the job done for the Bullets. Howard, after a six-point, one-rebound first half, finished with 26 and eight. Calbert Cheaney had 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. Gheorghe Muresan had 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Brent Price had 19 points, eight assists, five assists and no turnovers in 41 minutes.
The Bullets won it in the third quarter, when they matched a season high for points in a quarter with 41. Howard, shaking off a first half when he hit just three of 10 shots, had 14 points. Muresan added 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the quarter, as the Bullets went from a four-point deficit to an 88-70 lead.
Muresan, in one sequence, blocked a shot by Rod Strickland (20 points, eight assists) at one end of the floor, raced downcourt, grabbed a rebound off the fast break and dunked over Arvydas Sabonis. Portland called time out, and the crowd went crazy.
"Gheorghe was the key," Blazers coach P. J. Carlesimo said. "We really didn't have an answer to him. It was just horrible defense on our part in the third quarter. They just took it right to us."
The Blazers fought back early in the fourth, when Lynam tried to rest his starters. Carlesimo was doing the same with his two best players, Strickland and Clifford Robinson. Portland scored the first nine points of the quarter, pulling within 88-79 after a layup by Gary Trent with 9:25 left.
A jumper by Howard with nine minutes left ended the run, but the Bullets hit just one of 12 shots to start the final period. The Blazers twice got within eight points, the last time coming with 4:16 left after a dunk by Trent.
Cheaney answered with a short jumper in the lane and Price followed with a a layup, giving the Bullets a 102-90 lead with just over three minutes left. The Blazers did not pose a serious threat the rest of the way as the Bullets improved their home record to 16-6.
Cheaney continued a strong stretch since coming back Jan. 16 from strained ligaments in his right ankle, an injury that forced him to miss 11 games. He is shooting 52.3 percent and averaging 20.5 points in his past four games.
"I'm just trying to be more aggressive," Cheaney said. "I make things happen when I do that."
The Bullets will need similar contributions from the entire team because three top players will be out for long stretches. Forward Chris Webber is out for the season after his shoulder surgery on Thursday. Guard Mark Price is sidelined at least six weeks after a broken bone was discovered in his left foot.
And yesterday the team learned that guard Robert Pack will remain on the injured list for possibly two more weeks because of a nerve problem in his right leg. Pack had tests on the leg Thursday.
"The guys we have out there are doing a good job for us," Lynam said. "And we're going to need that the rest of the way."
NOTES: Rookie forward Rasheed Wallace (13 points, four rebounds) was ejected in the fourth quarter after picking up two technical fouls within 44 seconds. . . . Newly acquired guard Greg Grant played the final minute, hitting a three-pointer. . . . Because of the weather, fans holding tickets to last night's game may exchange them for the Feb. 19 game against the New Jersey Nets.