Suns put hurt on Bullets Cheaney injured as Phoenix continues dominance, 114-107

December 19, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX -- For the Washington Bullets, the odds facing them proved too much to overcome. Chris Webber, the team's best player this season, was on the bench after fouling out. And Calbert Cheaney wasn't even on the bench, having left with an injury in the first quarter.

Not exactly the way the Bullets wanted to face ending a 16-game losing streak to the Phoenix Suns that has spanned over eight years. And those odds were simply too much to overcome as the Suns pulled out a 114-107 win, ending Washington's' four-game winning streak. The Bullets have lost 17 straight to Phoenix, and have not won against the Suns since 1988.

Webber fouled out with 3: 59 left in the game, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gheorghe Muresan also fouled out with 1: 07 left, having picked up two offensive foul calls in the final three minutes.

When it came down to crunch time the Bullets, who had been going to Webber, simply had no one to go to. Jaren Jackson missed several wide open three-pointers in the final minutes. Juwan Howard, with Webber out, was facing aggressive double-teams. And Rod Strickland (20 points, 11 assists) was being played aggressively by Kevin Johnson on the perimeter.

It looked like the game was a lost cause going into the fourth quarter for the Bullets. Cheaney left the game in the opening quarter with a hip injury and Webber picked up his fifth foul on the final play of the third quarter -- thus starting the fourth quarter on the bench.

And yet the Bullets trailing, 91-84, going into the final quarter, made an impressive run. Tracy Murray scored the first four points of the quarter for the Bullets who later, after two free throws by Harvey Grant, were within 96-94 with 7: 58 left.

When Webber returned the Bullets were within striking distance, 98-94. And Webber did not back down and play timid upon his return, crashing the boards hard and challenging shots. And he also hit a huge shot, a three-pointer with 5: 50 left that gave Washington a 103-100 lead.

But Webber's aggressive play eventually caught up with him. With 3: 59 left he pushed off Mark Bryant for a rebound and was called for his sixth foul, forcing him out of the game. And that led the Bullets sweating out the toughest game on this six-game road trip.

For the third time on this road trip, the Bullets got off to an impressive offensive start, shooting 59.1 percent. Howard (14 points) and Webber (13 points) played major roles in the shooting, combining for 13 of 18 shots in the half.

However, the Suns were equally impressive shooting, getting a big boost from former Dunbar star Sam Cassell. Cassell's eight points in the second quarter rallied the Suns from a nine-point deficit to a 62-62 halftime tie.

Webber and Howard did most of their first-half damage in the opening quarter, when Howard scored 12 points and Webber added 10. And the Bullets led by as many as six points in the first quarter, a 20-14 advantage coming after on Webber's layup with 6: 35 left.

The Suns came back with a 13-5 run and took a 27-25 lead after a layup by John Williams who, by going to the outside for most of the opening quarter against Muresan, scored 14 points in the first.

And Washington suffered a big loss during that run when starting Cheaney went down with what was diagnosed as a left hip flexor strain. When Muresan suffered a strained right hip flexor, he wound up missing all of training camp and started the season on the injured list.

The first quarter ended with Grant hitting a 17-foot-jumper at the buzzer, giving the Bullets a 38-33 lead.

Cassell, who was Phoenix's starting point guard until Kevin Johnson came off the injured list, started the second quarter for the Suns. And his contributions at the start of the quarter were quiet as the Bullets, with five reserves on the court, managed to increase the lead to 51-42 after a jumper by Chris Whitney with 8: 35 left. Washington was able to later match that nine-point lead, when a three-pointer by Tracy Murray with 5: 31 left made it 56-47.

But by then Cassell was beginning to cause problems for the Bullets by driving to the basket. With Cassell scoring eight points in the second quarter, the Suns outscored the Bullets, 15-6, over the final 5: 15 to tie the game at 62.

The first-half injury to Cheaney forced the Bullets to play with a different rotation, with Jackson moving to the starting unit. Whether that had an effect on the team's cohesiveness is unclear, but the Bullets did find themselves trailing, 71-66, after Michael Finley -- who scored 16 points in the first half -- scored on a layup with 9: 40 left.

An 8-1 run by the Bullets, which ended with a layup by Howard, gave the Bullets a 74-72 lead. And Washington later had a 81-78 lead after a layup by Whitney with 2: 52 left.

The Suns scored the next nine points as the Bullets fell apart. A layup by Johnson capped the run, giving the Suns an 87-81 lead.

Later a driving layup by Strickland on Washington's next possession, with two seconds left, had the Bullets within 89-84. But somehow the Suns got a two-on-one fast break on the inbounds pass. And when Robert Horry drove to the basket he was fouled by Webber -- the fifth foul by the Bullets forward. Horry hit both free throws, the Suns led, 91-84, and the Bullets went into the fourth with big problems: no Cheaney, five fouls on Webber, and four each on Muresan and Whitney.

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers

Site: Los Angeles Sports Arena

Time: 10:30

Radio: WWRC (980 AM)

Outlook: Going into play last night, Clippers F Loy Vaught ranked 10th in the league in rebounding (10.8 rpg). This is the second of a back-to-back for the Bullets, who played at Phoenix last night. Although the teams split their two games last season, the Bullets have a two-game road winning streak against the Clippers.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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