Bullets use balance to top 76ers, 88-76 Team improves to 5-6

Sixers miss Iverson

November 23, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- As impressive as the Washington Bullets were in their comeback against the Seattle SuperSonics earlier in the week, the team had yet to demonstrate the ability to beat the marginal teams. So having the Philadelphia 76ers in town last night -- without the injured Allen Iverson -- was an opportunity for the Bullets to begin proving themselves.

The Bullets did just that, getting their most balanced attack of the year in an 88-76 win over the Sixers before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena and a national television audience. The 76 points Washington allowed was its lowest total since 1982, when the Bullets held the Cleveland Cavaliers to 74.

The Bullets' starters put in extended minutes in a double-overtime loss to Seattle, but last night's easy win gave coach Jim Lynam a chance to rest his key players for tonight's game in Milwaukee. Juwan Howard, who played 51 minutes Wednesday, had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes last night. Chris Webber, who played a career-high 56 minutes Wednesday, scored 13 in a more manageable 30 minutes.

But Lynam said the biggest story was the way Calbert Cheaney rebounded from his scoreless game Wednesday. After being showered with boos by the home fans in the loss to the Sonics, Cheaney scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 25 minutes -- with much of that time being matched against talented Sixers guard Jerry Stackhouse.

"I just wanted to come out, play aggressive, relax and just play," said Cheaney, who blamed his poor play on putting pressure on himself. "If I can have fun out there, I'll be better off. I played hard, and just relaxed and let things come to me."

And they came to Cheaney early. He scored 10 in the first half and played just nine minutes in the second half of the one-sided game. The Bullets led from the start, when they scored the first seven points. They led by as many as 21. Rod Strickland added 13 points and Gheorghe Muresan, who missed Wednesday's game with a fever, contributed eight points and four blocks in 26 minutes off the bench.

The team got a scare when reserve guard Chris Whitney went down late in the third quarter. But he managed to leave the game under his own power, and returned to start the fourth.

The Sixers are a different team without the speedy Iverson, who suffered a slightly separated left shoulder last week. With Rex Walters at the point, the Sixers managed 12 assists. Stackhouse led the way with 19 points, and Derrick Coleman added 12. But the two combined to hit just 11 of 32 shots, and Philadelphia's scoring in the first three quarters told the story of the game: 18 points, 17 and 14.

Beginning with Philadelphia last night, and continuing at Milwaukee tonight and against Minnesota on Monday, the Bullets are probably playing their most important stretch of this young season as the team attempts to get over .500. Even with the lopsided win last night, the Bullets still do not resemble a finely tuned team, much less a team that many expected to be a serious contender this year.

"I think this is a very competitive stretch for us and if we beat these teams [the media] is going to say we're about to start clicking," Howard said. "But I still feel at times we're not there. I know I haven't played the way I'm capable of. Hopefully it will come soon."

Perhaps last night was the way for that to start.

"Truly, it feels good to get a win," Howard said. "It felt good to get a win like this where guys can sit back and relax on the bench. Now all we want to do is get to .500, and hopefully we can go from there."

NOTE: Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes attended last night's game, the first time he has been in the arena since he retired in 1984. Hayes, who along with Wes Unseld helped the Bullets win the NBA title in 1978, is the team's all-time leader in points (15,551) and blocked shots (1,558). Hayes, who earlier this month was named one of the NBA's top 50 players of all time, is in town for a book signing of the "NBA at 50" book.

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