Bullets head West with a lot to prove Team 0-10 vs. elite foes

Kemp, Malone face Webber

January 31, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- When the Washington Bullets last ventured West for an extended road trip, there was talk among the players of a sweep. Going into the four-game West Coast swing that begins tonight against the Seattle SuperSonics, the talk is more realistic.

"If we come back here with a sweep," Chris Webber said, "we should be very happy."

Extremely happy. That's because unlike the last trip, when they faced the likes of Sacramento and Golden State, the Bullets after tonight play the Los Angeles Lakers (Sunday) and Utah Jazz (Monday). That's three straight games against the second-, third- and fourth-best teams in the Western Conference.

The Bullets, who are 0-10 against first- and second-place teams this season, realize the importance the next week carries. But they don't want to put too much pressure on themselves, with almost half a season to play.

"It's too soon to say whether this is going to make or break us," said shooting guard Calbert Cheaney. "It's a big trip for us. But after we get back, we're going to still have 30-some games left."

What the Bullets, who will conclude the trip Wednesday in Denver, want to avoid is going into next week's All-Star break with their confidence shot. And that is indeed a possibility since Washington will be facing half of the 12 Western Conference All-Stars.

"We need to beat some good teams," Webber said. "So I think it's big to finish before the break strongly. If we do that, we'll be OK."

Having been passed over as an All-Star by the Eastern Conference coaches, Webber can use this trip as a statement-making journey, facing two of the top forwards in the West -- the Sonics' Shawn Kemp and Jazz's Karl Malone.

"The second half, what am I going to use for motivation? Me," Webber said. "I don't need any outside sources for motivation anymore."

The Bullets had been expecting to make this trip close to full strength, but they boarded yesterday's plane with just 11 players. Center Lorenzo Williams (sore left knee) was placed on the injured list yesterday, and guard Tim Legler (hamstring) is not expected back until after the All-Star break.

"It will be a tough time for us, missing some players and going against teams that are at the top of their division," forward Tracy Murray said. "We're going to have to bite, scratch and claw to get some wins.

"Momentum is big, whether it's at the beginning, middle or end of the season," he added. "I think if we had some momentum going into the break, it would carry over."

NOTE: Washington singer Crystal Waters shot a video this week of a song called "Say If You Feel All Right" that was included in the "NBA at 50" soundtrack and that features Bullets players. She shot the video after practice Monday at Bowie State, and after Tuesday's game at USAir Arena.

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Seattle SuperSonics

Site: Key Arena, Seattle

Time: 10

TV/Radio: HTS/WWRC (980 AM)

Outlook: This is the start of a tough four-game trip for the Bullets, who won't return home until Feb. 11. The Sonics (31-13) have won 12 of their past 13 at home, and 10 of their last 12 overall. F Shawn Kemp (21.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg) and G Gary Payton (22.3 ppg, 7.3 apg) will represent the Sonics as starters in the All-Star Game next weekend. Washington has won two straight, but before that had lost six of seven.

Pub Date: 1/31/97

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