Bullets buck blues and Milwaukee, too 111-103 win restores confidence before trip

February 26, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- It was a team that barely had a pulse, with the Washington Bullets losing nine of 10 games going into yesterday. With an important five-game West Coast trip approaching, owner Abe Pollin gathered his team together yesterday for a little pep talk.

"He encouraged us, explaining that we're not out of the playoff HTC picture yet, and that we had to win," point guard Brent Price said. "It was good for us."

It obviously worked because the Bullets showed plenty of life yesterday in beating the Milwaukee Bucks, 111-103, at USAir Arena. The victory broke a three-game losing streak and gave the Bullets confidence for the trip that begins in Denver tomorrow.

"We need to go on one of those winning streaks," said Juwan Howard, who broke out of a slump himself with 25 points. "It's going to be tough, but we have to hang in there. I still think we have a chance at the playoffs."

In winning, the Bullets (24-30) looked more aggressive than in recent weeks, running their fast break effectively throughout. Howard, who had three straight games below 20 points until yesterday, also had 14 rebounds and seven assists. Plus, he was around to see the end of the game after being ejected in Friday's loss to Charlotte -- the second straight game in which the Bullets blew a 17-point first-half lead.

"I was frustrated in that game, I felt we had the game won at Charlotte, and here," Howard said. "Our transition game has been our strength. We have young guys with young legs, and with our transition game [yesterday], it helped us."

Maybe taking a page out of the Hornets' game plan, the Bucks ran some traps in an attempt to rattle the Bullets. But unlike the last two games when Washington was taken out of its offense, the Bullets got the ball to the open man and attacked.

"In the Charlotte game we'd get the ball over half-court, and just hold it," Price said. "[Today] we had guys taking it to the hole."

Which resulted in easy shots, with four of the five starters scoring 17 points or better. Price had 21 points and nine assists. Gheorghe Muresan had 18 points and 10 rebounds. And the player who benefited most from the running was Rasheed Wallace, who had 17 points, with seven of his eight field goals coming on dunks (the other was a three-pointer).

"I love to run, that's one of my strengths," Wallace said. "Guys were hitting me on the break; that's how we got some easy scores."

Just Wallace's presence on the court was possibly the difference between yesterday's game and the 109-98 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Feb. 15. In that game, Wallace left in the second quarter after spraining his ankle and, with Howard forced to guard Vin Baker, Bucks forward Glenn Robinson had an easy time scoring over shorter defenders.

Yesterday, Baker had 35 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, but little help as the Bucks trailed by as many as 15 and never got closer than six in the final quarter. Robinson did finish with 17 points, but he hit just five of 16 shots against the taller Howard.

Now the Bullets have to help themselves. After holding the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference for much of the first half of the season, the Bullets are 10th.

"We put ourselves in a tough spot by not winning winnable games," coach Jim Lynam said.

Which leads the Bullets to the road trip with games against Denver, Utah, the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento and Vancouver.

"If we can get three of the five we can be in real good shape [for the playoffs]," Lynam said. "We can get away with two of five. There will be teams in bunches at the end, and I figured we would be one of them. With three weeks to go, they'll shoot the gun, and play to the wire."

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