Seldom-used rookie guard Bryan Warrick got the chance tonight he had been waiting for and made the most of it.
Warrick, who had scored only two points since Nov. 6, got 11 of his pro high 14 in tonight's fourth quarter as the Washington Bullets defeated the Detroit Pistons, 119-110, at the Silverdome.
The Bullets have won nine of their last 12 games. But their next opponent, Saturday night in sold-out Capital Centre, is the Philadelphia 76ers, the team with the best record in the National Basketball Association.
With starter Frank Johnson in foul trouble, Coach Gene Shue chose to substitute with Warrick instead of the more experienced John Lucas for the last 19 minutes and it proved to be the right move.
"I think I'll go with him for a while now," said Shue. "He's earned it."
Warrick replaced Johnson with the Bullets trailing, 71-66, and seven minutes remaining in the third period.
After making a couple of mistakes, Warrick settled down, so Shue left him in the rest of the game.
Warrick stole a pass from Vinnie Johnson and passed to Jeff Ruland for a fast break layup that gave the Bullets an 83-81 lead late in the third period, then scored four of the Bullets' first six points of the fourth quarter. That gave them an 89-86 lead and they never trailed again.
The Pistons did close to 89-88, but Don Collins scored the game's next five points and the Bullets were able to keep Detroit at bay the rest of the way.
Ruland led the Bullets with 24 points and Greg Ballard had 23, but it was Warrick who was the key to their victory.
The Bullets were praising Warrick before the season and by the third game he was starting. He was woefully ineffective, however, and was benched after six games. Since, in 14 games before tonight's, Warrick had played only 24 minutes, and had made one of five shots.
He moved up a notch when Lucas missed a practice last week and was demoted to third string.
Johnson had trouble trying to guard Isiah Thomas tonight and played only 14 minutes, getting five points and only two assists.
In the first half, Shue sent in Lucas and he had six assists in 14 minutes, but Warrick played the last two minutes of the half. When Johnson was called for his fourth foul early in the third period, Shue went right to Warrick.
"I wanted to see what John could do first," said Shue, "and then I gave Bryan a chance."
Warrick played 21 minutes and made five of eight shots, with three assists and two steals.
"It's difficult to contribute when you're only playing two or three minutes a game," he said.
"At first he was overhandling the ball," said Shue, "but that's understandable because he hasn't played much lately. He got better the longer he was in."
Said Warrick, "After a while I started feeling comfortable, but there are still some things I have to work on."
Thomas and Johnson each had 25 points for the Pistons. Thomas also had nine assists and six steals and got away with clubbing Rick Mahorn in the back of the head late in the game.
Mahorn had leveled Thomas with a legal pick and, after the Detroit guard lay writhing on the floor for a moment while play continued, he leaped up, ran up behind Mahorn and smacked him in the back of the head with his forearm.
Neither official saw the blow thrown, but Mahorn squared off at Thomas as both coaches rushed onto the floor and teammates stepped between the two players. No other punches were thrown.
"I don't know what it was, but I caught it," said Thomas. "I play fair and don't try to hurt anyone, and he's (Mahorn) out there trying to hurt people. You try to hurt me and I'll try to hurt you. That's the way I was brought up."
Thomas is 6 feet 1, 180 pounds; Mahorn 6-10, 235.
Mahorn just laughed when asked about the incident.