Cavs pick off short-handed Bullets Webber and Cheaney sit out 108-100 defeat

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

LANDOVER -- When you look at the Cleveland Cavaliers, there doesn't appear to be much to the team. Michael Cage, in his 11th year, is an undersized starting center who would be riding the bench if he were anywhere else. And forward Danny Ferry, while playing decently this year, has been a bust for much of his career.

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

Deploying the league's top defensive team and pretty basic offensive fundamentals, the Cavaliers won their fourth straight game last night with a 108-100 win over the Bullets before 13,452 at USAir Arena.

The Bullets sorely missed Chris Webber (strained right shoulder) and Calbert Cheaney (sore right leg) in losing their second game to the Cavaliers this season. The loss ended a three-game winning streak, and a six-game winning streak at home for Washington. The last home loss before last night also was to Cleveland, 97-85, on Nov. 30.

The Cavaliers have slowed the pace of the game down in their two years under Fratello. Offensively, the team constantly sets screens until it finds an open shooter. And when the Cavaliers were open last night, they hit their shots. Terrell Brandon scored 27 points and Chris Mills and Ferry added 20 to lead Cleveland.

"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."

Rasheed Wallace scored a career-high 20 points, and Robert Pack also had 19 for the Bullets.

The Bullets trailed, 80-72, going into the final quarter, and closed to within 98-93 after Ledell Eackles converted a three-point play with 2:38 left.

But that was as close as it got, with turnovers hurting the Bullets the entire game. Washington committed 17 turnovers, with the Cavaliers converting them into 27 points.

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

The Bullets have had no problems shooting the ball this season, taking the league's best shooting percentage into last night's game, but they were facing a Cleveland team that leads the NBA in defense.

Even when the Bullets led by as many as eight points in the first half, they were forced into the Cavaliers slow, methodical style of play and wound up going into the half trailing, 49-45.

Playing their third straight game without Webber, the Bullets got a decent first half out of their front court. Wallace, showing signs of breaking out of his recent slump, had 11 points in the half and Howard eight. And Gheorghe Muresan, despite missing four of five shots, grabbed eight rebounds.

The Bullets, who started the game hitting seven of their first 11 shots, wound up shooting just 44.2 percent in the half. Meanwhile, four of the five Cavaliers starters scored at least seven points and, on Bobby Phills three-pointer from beyond halfcourt at the half-time buzzer, had the four-point half-time lead.

Washington fell behind, 6-2, in the opening minutes. But Eackles hit a three-pointer that began a 11-4 run and, after a dunk by Wallace with 6:04 left the Bullets had a 13-10 lead.

The Bullets started out hot, but over the final four minutes of the half hit just two of eight shots. Still, behind Pack's eight points and three assists, Washington's lead was 21-17 at quarter's end.

NOTE: Mark Price said he felt fine yesterday, 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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