The Cleveland Cavaliers are just beginning to collect the dividends for going with five rookies last season.
After struggling to a 31-51 record last season, the Cavaliers have developed rapidly into a solid, contending team.
The Cavaliers reached the high mark of the last decade Tuesday night at Landover, Md. when they outlasted the Washington Bullets in a wild 107-106 battle.
It was the fifth victory in a row, three of them on the road and put the Cavaliers two games over .500 this late in the season for the first time in more than 10 years.
Mark Price made the decisive free throw, but it was a block of little Tyrone Bogues' driving shot at the buzzer by Craig Ehlo that saved the game and gave the Cavaliers a 23-21 record and put them into fourth place in the tough Central Division.
With the score tied, 106-106, Price was fouled with five seconds left. He missed the first free throw, then made the second. The speedy Bogues took the inbounds pass and went the length of the court only to have his shot rejected. It was a club-record 16th block for the Cavaliers, nine of them by John Williams, along with Price, one of the five rookies who have matured so well.
Williams had 23 points, and another second-year player, Brad Daugherty, had a triple-double, 20 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Price, also one of last year's rookies, has been a key player this season. When Ron Harper, who was the best of the rookies, was hurt at the start of the season, it was Price who kept the club from falling apart.
He came through twice in the clutch in this one. With 14 seconds left and the score tied, the Bullets had the ball. But Price took a charge from Frank Johnson, then scored the decisive points.
"The first one felt good," said Price, a 90% free-throw shooter. "At least, it was long. If it had been short I never would have heard the last of it."
It seemed as though something wild happened in each of the last 60 seconds. Cleveland led, 106-102. But, Jeff Malone tipped in a rebound for the Bullets and, with 38 seconds to play, Frank Johnson missed a shot. The Cavaliers' Tyrone Corbin accidentally knocked the rebound into the basket and it was a tie game.
Price, a 6-1 guard from Georgia Tech, was a steal from player-rich Dallas. The Cavaliers gave up a 1989 second-round draft choice and some cash for Price. He was a strong No. 3 guard as a rookie and really proved his worth when Harper missed 24 games.
Only Daugherty is scoring better than Price, who is averaging 15.7 points per game. He is easily the most accurate three-point shooter in the National Basketball Assn. with 56.9% (37 for 65) and leads the Cavaliers in assists.
"I never was able to get going last year," Price said. "I never shot that poorly (40.8% last season) in my life. I worked hard this summer to get my game back.
"We're also improved as a team. We feel we can play with anybody."
Price, shooting 51.2% this season, will take his long range shooting ability to Chicago for the three-point shoot-out, where he'll oppose Larry Bird, among others.
Boston 118, Indiana 103--Perhaps it was a little overwhelming for Larry Bird to see his life-size replica in a wooden statue at Boston Garden.
Because the player General Manager Red Auerbach said is the best player the Celtics have ever had and possibly the best player ever, turned in a wooden performance at the unveiling.
In one of his poorest performances, Bird was only 7 for 19 from the field and had only 21 points. Fortunately, Kevin McHale is approaching all-league form and Danny Ainge was also sharp.
In addition, the opponent was Indiana which hasn't won at Boston in nearly 10 years, so a good night by Bird wasn't needed.
McHale had 27 points and Ainge 21. Ainge had five points to start a 9-0 spurt in the third quarter after Indiana cut the lead to 78-74.
The sculpture, carved by Armand LaMontagne of Rhode Island, will be housed in the New England Sports Museum.
Philadelphia 96, Golden State 84--Charles Barkley was weak from the flu that caused him to miss Sunday's game with Boston, but even below par, he excelled against the hapless Warriors.
Barkley scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half as the 76ers led all the way in handing the Warriors their 21st road loss in 22 games.
Ralph Sampson, still bothered by leg problems, came off the bench to get 16 points and 9 rebounds for the Warriors.
Denver 115, Dallas 105--Michael Adams bombed the Mavericks from long range at Denver and Alex English and former Maverick Jay Vincent did it from close range.
Adams made 5 of his 7 three-point tries and scored 21 points. English scored 26 and Vincent 20 as the Nuggets handed the leaders of the Midwest Division their third loss in a row.
Brad Davis of the Mavericks made his 10th consecutive three-pointer late in the second quarter, but when he missed in the third period, his streak ended, one short of the league record.
Utah 123, Sacramento 91--Rickey Green came off the bench to score 16 points in the second quarter at Salt Lake City and help the Jazz build a commanding lead early.
Karl Malone had 25 points and 10 rebounds to also play an important role in Utah's third win in a row, longest winning streak of the season.
Green came off the bench to hit eight consecutive shots and the Jazz built a 30-28 lead to 56-45 at halftime.