Bullets bruise Blazers, 113-97 Howard, Cheaney and Muresan spark third win in row


LANDOVER -- With Chris Webber gone for the season, the Washington Bullets have become Juwan Howard's team. And when the newly named NBA All-Star struggled through a six-point first half last night, it's not surprising that the Bullets did, too.

Howard finished the game strong, however, ending up with 26 points and eight rebounds. And that was enough to help the Bullets to a 113-97 win over the Portland Trail Blazers before an announced sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

All five starters were in double figures for the Bullets. Calbert Cheaney scored 23 points, and Gheorghe Muresan had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Brent Price contributed 19 points and eight assists as the Bullets (22-21) racked up their third straight win.

The Bullets' 22 victories are one more than they had all last season.

Rod Strickland scored 20 points and Clifford Robinson 19 for Portland, which was swept in its two-game series against Washington this season. The Trail Blazers have lost three straight and five of six.

Down 49-47 at halftime, the Bullets outscored the Trail Blazers 41-21 in the third period -- the most points scored against Portland in one quarter this season.

The Bullets appeared comfortably ahead, 88-70, going into the fourth quarter but the Blazers began an impressive comeback with their two top players, Robinson and Strickland, on the bench.

Portland started the fourth quarter by scoring nine straight points and pulled to within 88-79 after a layup by Gary Trent with 9:25 left.

A jumper by Howard with nine minutes left ended that run, but that was the only shot the Bullets hit in their first 12 attempts to start the quarter.

The Blazers twice got to within eight points of the Bullets, the last time coming with 4:16 left after a dunk by Trent.

Cheaney then answered with a short jumper in the lane, and Price followed with 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.

The Bullets hadn't played a game since Saturday, and it showed. Even though Washington had a shooting advantage over the Blazers in the first half, 48.7 percent to 43.2 percent, the Bullets went into intermission trailing, 49-47.

Washington had balance in its offense in the first half, with five players scoring at least six points (Gheorghe Muresan had 11 to lead the Bullets).

However, two Portland players who could make arguments for being on the All-Star team -- Robinson and Strickland -- each had 12 points to help the Blazers to the halftime lead.

Robinson had seven of his points in the first quarter, and %J Portland had an early 13-10 lead after a layup by Strickland with 6:31 left.

Washington scored the next eight points and, after a three-pointer by Rasheed Wallace with 5:16 left, had an 18-13 lead. The Bullets would go on to lead by as many as seven points, that coming after two free throws by Mark Price put the Bullets up 24-17 with two minutes left.

But the Bullets managed just two minutes the rest of the quarter. Meanwhile, the Blazers were ending the quarter with a 7-2 run and, after a layup by rookie Trent with 21 seconds left, pulled to within 26-24 going into the second quarter.

That momentum carried over for the Blazers, who opened the quarter with an 8-3 run and had a 32-29 lead after two free throws by Aaron McKie with 8:28 left.

It was back and forth the rest of the quarter. Washington scored eight straight to take a 37-32 lead. Then Portland responded with 7-0 run for a 39-37 lead after a three-pointer by Robinson with 3:19 left.

It was a lead that would hold the rest of the quarter, as the Blazers led by as many as four points over the last three minutes on the way to the 49-47 halftime lead.

Portland's lead shrank to 59-57 midway through the third when Muresan and Howard began to put their mark on the game. Over the final 8:30 of the third, Washington outscored Portland, 31-11. Howard, who hit just three of 10 shots in the first half, scored 10 of his 14 third-quarter points over that span.

Muresan had 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the quarter. On one sequence he blocked a layup attempt by Rod Strickland on one end, then grabbed a missed shot by Price on the other end and slammed it home.

The crowd roared as Portland called time out, and the Bullets, holding the Blazers to just 5-of-18 shooting in the third quarter, took an 88-70 lead into the final period.

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