CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are the league's best team in terms of dictating tempo. It's a slow style that the Washington Bullets hate to play. And, in three games against the Cavaliers this season, they have refused to do so.
Last night, it was the Bullets who dictated the tempo, speeding past the Cavaliers for a 98-85 win before 19,103 at the Gund Arena.
It was the Bullets' fourth straight win, matching their longest streak of the season. More importantly, the win got the Bullets off to a good start in what is probably the toughest stretch of the season. The Cleveland game began a three-week stretch in which the Bullets will play 11 of 14 on the road.
But let's get back to this tempo thing for the Bullets, who are
four games over .500 (19-15) for the first time since Feb. 4, 1985. By slowing games down, the Cavaliers have held opponents to a league-low 84.7 points per game going into last night. But with last night's output, the Bullets now have three of the top five scoring games against the Cavaliers this season (their 106 points last month are the most allowed by Cleveland this season). Washington led by as many as 21 points last night.
"It's basically executing your game plan, and that's how we scored," said Juwan Howard, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. "Cleveland always contains people and makes teams play their game, meaning slow tempo. We had fast-break opportunities, and that helped keep us loose."
What also kept the Bullets loose was yet another balanced offense, now that Calbert Cheaney has been welcomed as a member of the team. Cheaney had 17 points (eight of 10 from the field), the fifth straight game he has scored in double figures.
In the past five games, since getting outscored 38-0 by Charlotte's Glen Rice, Cheaney is averaging 15.2 points, while shooting 67.3 percent. He is 19-for-23 from the floor in his past two games.
"We forgot about Calbert," said backcourt mate Rod Strickland. "Well, he's a part of the offense now and he'll continue to be."
Said Bullets coach Jim Lynam: "I'd say this is as well as he's played. It's a big plus when you get another guy contributing, as Calbert has."
If Cheaney continues to contribute, the Bullets will have four scoring threats. In addition to Howard, Strickland led a balanced Bullets attack last night with 20 points, while also handing out eight assists and grabbing five rebounds. And Chris Webber had 17 points and eight assists.
The Bullets took control in the opening quarter, when they shot 65.0 percent and led by as many as 10 points on the way to a 58-39 halftime lead.
And unlike Friday, when they blew an 18-point lead to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bullets were able to maintain control. The Cavaliers did put together a couple of second-half runs, mainly behind their three-point shooting (8-for-17).
But when the Cavaliers got to within nine points in the final quarter, it was Strickland who saw to it that the lead wasn't wasted. He hit a pair of tough jumpers in the lane over Terrell Brandon (19 points) midway through the fourth quarter, thwarting Cleveland's attempted comeback.
"He kept us in it," Webber said of Strickland. "He hit a couple of key shots. The thing about Rod is that he doesn't have to be dominant all the time. He doesn't have an ego. He just wants to win, and does what it takes to win."
And win is what the Bullets are doing, taking 12 of their last 16.
Washington has won six of its last eight road games, and improved to 9-7 on the road. Last year Washington didn't win its ninth road game until March 4. But the road gets tougher from here, with games at Miami tomorrow and Chicago on Tuesday.
"It's going to be tough," Strickland said. "We're playing a lot better now than we were at the beginning of the season. We have to stay loose, play and see what happens."
NOTE: Harvey Grant (bruised right biceps) did not play, but is probable for tomorrow. Chris Whitney scored 10 points off the bench for the Bullets.
Pub Date: 1/12/97