Cavs make it look simple, top Bullets Washington's win streak ends at three, 108-100

January 03, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- They march out for the opening tap with an undersized Michael Cage at center and career-long underachiever Danny Ferry at power forward. And aside from Dan Majerle on the bench, there aren't a lot reserves on the Cleveland Cavaliers who could make other NBA rosters.

Which is what makes the coaching job done by Mike Fratello so impressive.

Combining a defense that rates as the league's best, with an offense that emphasizes fundamentals, the Cavaliers won their fourth straight game last night with a 108-100 win over the Bullets before 13,452 at USAir Arena.

Washington had won three straight going into last night, and six straight games at home. But maybe the absence of Chris Webber (strained left shoulder) and Calbert Cheaney (sore right leg) finally caught up with the Bullets, whose last home loss before last night came on Nov. 30 -- against the Cavaliers.

Terrell Brandon, on his way to a possible spot on the Eastern Division All-Star team, scored 27 points to lead the Cavaliers. Ferry and Chris Mills each scored 20, and Bobby Phills had 19.

What the Cavaliers, now 16-12, do each night is play defense (they allow a league-low 92.5 points per game) and run an offense sparked by the most basic of plays, the pick and roll. The Cavaliers hit 55.6 percent of their shots last night.

"They're not a very talented team, but they play so great together," said Bullets forward Juwan Howard, who had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists. "You have to congratulate a team like that that gets the most out of what they have. They find a way to win. I don't know if it's the players, or it's the coach. I think it's both."

The Bullets started strong, hitting seven of their first 11 shots. Rasheed Wallace, who has struggled much of his rookie season, was particularly lively, scoring 11 points in the first half. He would finish the game with a career-high 20. After a short jumper by Wallace gave the Bullets a 38-30 lead with 5:09 left in the first half, they appeared capable of surviving the absence of two injured starters.

But the Cavaliers would finish the half with a 19-7 run and, with Phills hitting a 55-foot shot at the buzzer, headed into the intermission with a 49-45 lead.

"They put a lot of pressure on us on the defensive end in the first half," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said.

pTC And that pressure continued in the second half. The Cavaliers would score 27 points off 17 Washington turnovers, a pretty impressive conversion rate. During one stretch of the fourth quarter, the Bullets turned the ball over on five of seven possessions.

Defensively, the Bullets were forced to rotate constantly against the pick and rolls -- with little luck. The Cavaliers constantly found themselves with open shots, hitting 20 of 32 (62.5 percent) in the second half. Cleveland led by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter.

"It's just a lot of pick and rolls that they execute to a T," Robert Pack (19 points, eight assists) said of the Cleveland offense. "And they played well defensively. We just got lulled to sleep with what they were doing."

The slowdown game played by the Cavaliers would appear to be to the advantage of the Bullets' 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan. But Muresan, while grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds, was a nonfactor offensively, scoring eight points in 25 minutes against the 6-9 Cage.

"They doubled everything in the post, and they had good rotations," Muresan said. "We didn't move the ball that good. They played very well."

Lynam came away impressed.

"I put them on the top shelf when it comes to execution," Lynam said. "They're as good as any team in the league in terms of execution and playing to the strengths of their players."

NOTE: Mark Price said he felt fine yesterday after his first practice following heel surgery, and will increase his practice time to 15 minutes today. "I'm a little sore, but not major. So far, so good," Price said. "It's about what I hoped for, so we're moving it along."

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