Bullets turn back Clippers Webber takes control at end of 102-93 win, 3rd in 4 games on trip

December 20, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- Losing a big lead has almost become a habit for the Washington Bullets. And when a 17-point lead turn into a one-point deficit in the fourth quarter last night, Rod Strickland knew exactly what to do.

"We just hung tough, got the ball down to the big people and let them work," the Bullets' point guard said.

There was some criticism after Wednesday night's loss in

Phoenix that Washington did not go into the post -- specifically to Juwan Howard -- at crunch time.

But going strictly to the low post in the final minutes allowed the Bullets to escape last night with a 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers before 7,399 at the Sports Arena.

The Bullets (12-12) again reached .500 and have won five of their last six games. More impressively, they improved to 3-1 on their six-game West Coast trip, with games remaining in Vancouver and Portland.

"When you're on the road, it's difficult playing in a building with 20,000 cheering against you -- maybe 5,000 here," said Bullets forward Chris Webber. "[The Clippers] played with a lot of pride. They played well to get back in the game, but we played well to hold them off and win."

Webber was a key to the victory, scoring 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds, ending a string of six games in which he had double-figure rebounding totals. Webber scored six points in the fourth quarter, his three field goals coming after the Clippers had come back from 17 points down in the third quarter to take a one-point lead after Rodney Rogers (27 points) converted a three-point play with 5: 27 left.

The Bullets lost the lead by being sloppy. Washington committed 23 turnovers, including nine in the fourth quarter. Webber and Howard had three turnovers each in the fourth quarter as the team tried to be too fancy running its fast break.

"We just couldn't keep the ball in the fourth quarter," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "They got a lot of their points in transition."

After the Clippers took the lead, Washington tied the game at 88 on a free throw by Tracy Murray. Then two straight baskets in the post by Webber and a dunk by Howard (25 points, seven rebounds, eight turnovers) gave Washington a 94-88 lead with 4: 06 left.

When the Clippers got within 94-91, Webber again came through big with a dunk. That increased Washington's lead to five and the Clippers, with just one field goal in the final 3: 30, were done for the night -- and so was the team's three-game winning streak.

The Bullets survived what could have been a difficult night. After Wednesday's loss to the Suns, Webber and Howard expressed disappointment that Howard didn't get the ball down the stretch. Webber had fouled out with just under four minutes left, and he said Howard should have been the main option.

Last night, that episode appeared to be forgotten.

"It was no big deal," said Bullets general manager Wes Unseld, who read about the remarks yesterday. "With a player of Juwan's stature, it's important to get him the ball. I don't think there's any problem with a player speaking what's on his mind."

Strickland, before last night's game, agreed that the ball belonged in Howard's hands at the end of the game.

"He should have had more touches," Strickland said. "We never ran a set play for him. That won't happen again."

The Bullets didn't get a chance to kick back and laugh during the final minutes last night after blowing the big lead, but they did get a chance before the game. That's when former Bullets center Kevin Duckworth walked out for the opening tip, looking far heavier than the 300 pounds he is listed as.

The Bullets' players, seeing Duckworth without his warm-up suit, broke out in laughter.

"I told him, 'What are you doing, eating your animals?' " said Strickland, referring to Duckworth's collection of animals. "That guy is huge."

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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