The Washington Bullets' "new lineup" of Rick Mahorn, Cliff Robinson and Charles Jones in the front court already has begun to pay dividends, even if it was derived out of necessity rather than design.
Because of all-star center Jeff Ruland's shoulder injury and uncertain status, Coach Gene Shue inserted the 6-foot-9 Jones into the starting lineup to get better rebounding.
Jones replaced 6-7 Greg Ballard at small forward for a second straight game Sunday and the Bullets defeated Indiana, 111-105, for their second victory in a row.
Shue hopes Jones will continue his impressive play tonight when Washington plays surging Cleveland at Richfield (Ohio) Coliseum (7:30, WDCA-TV-20).
Washington (37-37) is one-half game ahead of New Jersey in the race for third place in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. The Cavaliers lost 19 of their first 21 games but are 31-43, two games ahead of Atlanta in the fight for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
Shue said he was pleased with his new lineup.
"We don't know Jeff's status, but with C.J. in there, we're a quicker and better rebounding team," Shue said.
Jones was a big factor in Sunday's game, scoring seven points, getting eight rebounds and blocking eight shots. He had seven blocks in the first half against the Pacers, tying a Bullets record set by Elvin Hayes against Detroit in March 1978.
In his two starts, Jones, who recently signed a multiyear contract, has averaged 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and and six blocks. In 20 games with Washington, he has 52 blocks.
"Playing the tough defense, blocking shots and rebounding is what my role is here," he said. "I'm not much of a scorer."
As long as Jones is doing his share at one end, Shue is happy. Guards Gus Williams, who scored 26 points against Indiana, and Jeff Malone, whose 23 points put him over 20 for the 11th time in 12 games, and Robinson have been providing the offense. In his new role as a reserve, Ballard has scored 35 points and gotten 13 rebounds in the two victories.
Washington has fared poorly against Cleveland, losing six of their last nine games and six of seven in Cleveland. The Cavaliers' recent surge -- three consecutive victories -- has been directly related to the much-improved overall play of forwards Roy Hinson (16.0, 7.8 rebounds) and Phil Hubbard (15.5 points, 6.4), and guards World B. Free (22.0) and John Bagley (9.7, 8.4 assists).