Jeff Ruland came off the bench to provide the scoring and rebounding the Bullets needed last night to come from behind and beat Cleveland, 94-87, for their second straight victory.
The 6-foot-11 rookie from Iona scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds while playing only 25 minutes. That was the difference as the Bullets overcame a 34-25 deficit to deal the disoriented Cavaliers their eighth straight setback, before 5,798 fans at Capital Centre.
Cleveland was playing its first and last game under Bob Kloppenburg, interim coach who relieved Don Delaney. Chuck Daly, an assistant at Phildelphia for the past five years, will take over today.
Once again, the Bullet defense was a major factor in the victory. For the second straight game and sixth time in 17 games, it limited the opponents to fewer than 90 points.
This night, however, belonged to Ruland. Again showing deceptive quickness with his first move, the 250-pounder took six rebounds off the offensive boards and made eight of 11 shots.
"Some games you can never get loose, but tonight I got involved right away," Ruland said. "The first thing I did was make a mistake and I thought the coach might take me out. But he left me in and I got a couple of quick rebounds."
When Coach Gene Shue used Ruland and Jim Chones together in the second quarter, the Cavaliers didn't match up defensively. Center James Edwards guarded Chones, leaving 6-7 Kenny Carr on Ruland.
"Sure, we took advantage of the smaller man on me," Ruland said. "We ran a lot of plays for me, and I was able to get good position."
The Bullets used the same tactic in the fourth period, with Rick Mahorn (eight points and eight rebounds) teaming with Ruland. Ruland responded by making all six of his shots.
"Jeff really gave us a lift," Shue said. "He gave us offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and scoring. When he's in there, things always seem to happen. He really played a strong game tonight."
Another important ingredient in the victory was the all-around play of Spencer Haywood, starting for only the third time. The 32-year-old forward made six of eight shots, grabbed eight rebounds and scored 16 points in 23 minutes. It was his most points as a Bullet.
"I'm ready to play now," said Haywood, who was signed at the end of training camp. "This is a whole new system and I knew it would take me a while to learn everything, but now I feel I can contribute a lot."
Shue was quick to praise Haywood, who was ineffective earlier in the season as a reserve. In the last three games, the 6-8 journeyman has 34 points and 21 rebounds.
The Bullets were trailing, 26-23, when Ruland entered the game for the first time. The Cavaliers' extended their lead to 34-25 early in the second period before Ruland made his first points on two free throws.
The Bullets tied the score at 38 on a three-point play by Frank Johnson. After two more deadlocks, Greg Ballard (12 points) put the Bullets ahead to stay when he was the payoff on a three-on-two fast break directed by Johnson. After Ruland made a foul shot, Ballard scored again on a break-away layup to boost the Bullets lead to 47-42 with 1:48 left in the half.
The Bullets had 18 offensive rebounds that led to 21 points . . . All-star Mike Mitchell of Cleveland led all scorers with 26 points, including 14 in the first quarter . . . The Bullets got 16 points off the fast break compared to only two by the Cavs.