Bullets feel some bumps, but overall, road smooth After aiming high, team goes 4-2 on West trip

December 25, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Just before the Washington Bullets embarked on a six-game road trip, forward Chris Webber said he expected the team to finish the trip undefeated.

So how did he feel when the Bullets returned home 4-2?

"A very good road trip," Webber said after Monday night's 106-84 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. "Somebody said to me, 'Why did you say you could go 6-0?' Because we could have.

"We lost two games that maybe we shouldn't have. If I would have said, 'Let's go 4-2,' then maybe we would have gone 3-3. You have to set your goals high."

There is nothing great about a road trip that includes a loss to one of the worst teams in the NBA, which happened Sunday, when the Bullets fell to the Vancouver Grizzlies. But the Bullets did end the trip with a winning record, an impressive feat for most NBA teams.

The 1986-87 season was the last time the Bullets finished their early-season West Coast trip with a winning record. They went 2-1 that season. In recent years, it has been the early trip that destroyed their season. Washington was able to return home from this trip with a .500 record (13-13).

What was most impressive was the lesson the Bullets learned when they blew a 13-point halftime lead to the Grizzlies. That game was described by Juwan Howard as depressing. The Bullets badly needed the win against the Blazers just to finish the trip with a winning record.

"I was disappointed against Vancouver, and I think we all were," Howard said. "It was quiet on the plane ride to Portland. No one said anything."

It was Howard who saw to it that the Bullets got off to a good start against the Blazers. He scored 25 points in the first half. Howard would only score two points in the second half, but Webber (25) and Tracy Murray (season-high 18) picked up the slack, as the Bullets increased an 11-point lead as high as 28.

What was most encouraging was the play of Howard and point guard Rod Strickland. At the start of the month, Howard failed to score in double figures three times in a five-game stretch. During the six-game trip, Howard averaged 21.1 points.

"I guess Santa came a little early for me," Howard said Monday night. "I think we wanted this game really bad after what happened against Vancouver."

Strickland averaged 19.5 points and 10.1 assists during the trip. He took more of a leadership role after having played tentatively and deferring to Howard and Webber.

Pub Date: 12/25/96

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