Bullets make it 7 in row, 110-97 Stay in playoff hunt with win over Raptors

April 15, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- The Bullets' injury situation has become downright ridiculous, with center Jim McIlvaine becoming the latest victim. Yet, Washington was able to extend its season-best winning streak to seven games yesterday, after which coach Jim Lynam heaped lofty praise on the player he says has kept the team together.

That player, of course, is Juwan Howard. The second-year forward had what can be described as a normal day at the office, scoring 29 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in Washington's 110-97 win over the Toronto Raptors before a sellout crowd at USAir Arena.

The win evened Washington's record at 39-39, marking the first time the team has been at .500 this late in the season since 1988. More importantly, Washington stayed within a game of Miami and Charlotte, which are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Washington continued to shoot the ball well, hitting better than 50 percent from the field (45 of 89) for the sixth time in seven games. Howard made 12 of 19 shots. He has scored 20 points or more in the past 12 games and has been the team's top scorer over the past 10.

"This team feeds off of Juwan's mind-set, and the only person I've ever seen who is as positive, as confident, is Charles Barkley," Lynam said. "Juwan is taking this [leadership] to another level. He's telling these guys, 'Don't worry about who's not here.' "

McIlvaine, making the second start of his career, wasn't there for the final 11 minutes of the game, having dislocated the ring finger on his right hand after getting hit with the ball. When the injury occurred, McIlvaine screamed, and his teammates looked away after seeing his badly misshapen finger.

X-rays on his hand were negative, but McIlvaine did not return to the game. His status wasn't immediately known for what looms as a huge game in Orlando tomorrow, but McIlvaine, who recorded six blocks in the first half (he has 18 blocks over his past three games), said he'll be ready.

"I could have played more today, although I don't know how effective I could have been," said McIlvaine, who started in place of the injured Gheorghe Muresan. "I just feel disgusted. I can't let myself get hurt."

Bob McCann and Bob Thornton did a decent job in McIlvaine's absence. McCann grabbed nine rebounds in 26 minutes, and Thornton had six rebounds in 12 minutes.

"Whether you call him [McCann] a center, whether he looks like a center, when the guy playing their center gets nine rebounds in 26 minutes, he's doing a good job," Lynam said. "We're having a lot of people getting it done, and we're shooting the ball extremely well."

Calbert Cheaney shot it well, scoring 22 points. So did Tim Legler, who scored 20 while hitting seven of 11 shots (including three of five three-pointers). Legler is averaging 16.8 points over his past four games, hitting 73.3 percent of his three-point shots in that span.

The Bullets jumped out quickly, leading by as many as 12 in the first half against a Toronto team that was playing without likely Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire (tendinitis in his left knee).

The Raptors did provide a bit of drama in the third quarter, when they got to within 74-73 after two free throws by Acie Earl (26 points) with 3: 59 left. But consecutive baskets by Howard started a 13-6 run to end the quarter, giving Washington an 87-79 lead that was never threatened.

"The reason why they won seven in a row is because they can shoot," Toronto coach Brendan Malone said. "And they have a good inside player in Juwan Howard."

Howard is playing more and more inside at power forward, a position he assumed after an injury to Rasheed Wallace. What's becoming clear is that Howard is effective wherever he plays.

"I feel like I have to be a leader out there, and I lead by example," Howard said. "I feel that every night I come out, I have to play my best. When I'm playing well, the team's playing well."

Which is why the Bullets, with four games remaining in the final week of the season, still have playoff aspirations. They were counted out just two weeks ago, but the past seven games have been like a playoff series, and Washington has yet to buckle. The next true test is against the Magic, the second-best team in the East.

"Other teams haven't helped us at all," Howard said. "We have to go out there and just do our job."

Playoff race

The standings and schedule for the three teams contending for the final playoff spot in the NBA Eastern Conference:

......................... W-L ............ GB

Charlotte ............... 40-38 .......... --

Miami ................... 40-38 .......... --

Washington .............. 39-39 .......... 1

Schedule

Charlotte: Today, at Indiana; Thursday, Milwaukee; Friday, at New York; Sunday, Orlando

Miami: Today, New Jersey; Wednesday, at Philadelphia; Friday, at Milwaukee; Sunday, Atlanta

Washington: Tomorrow, at Orlando; Wednesday, Boston; Friday, at Toronto; Sunday, Chicago

Pub Date: 4/15/96

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