Bullets fill nets, spill Nets Offense clicks in at Arena in victory over N. Jersey, 125-107

February 15, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

New coach Bernie Bickerstaff has been stressing defense since he took over the Washington Bullets this week. But last night, it was his offense that took off.

The Bullets shot 55.7 percent and soared to their highest point production of the season to defeat the New Jersey Nets, 125-107, before 10,642 at Baltimore Arena.

The victory ended a season-high, five-game Washington losing streak and was the first under Bickerstaff, the former Denver Nuggets coach who took over from the dismissed Jim Lynam on Tuesday.

"It always feels good to win," Bickerstaff said. "Everything's a little better -- the food you eat, the people you're with. It certainly beats the alternative."

The outcome became virtually assured when Washington (23-26) scored the first 12 points of the second half while the Nets shot 0-for-5 and committed three turnovers.

That fattened a 58-50 halftime lead to 20 points, and New Jersey never got back into contention. New Jersey's Khalid Reeves did find three-point range, but it was too late to make a difference.

"That was probably the most fluid we've played on offense the whole season," said guard Calbert Cheaney, one of seven Bullets to score at least nine points.

"We were getting down the floor and running and making things happen. I was aggressive and I got opportunities to shoot [22 points]."

The catalyst was point guard Rod Strickland, who had 10 assists and 19 points.

L "It was one of our best [offensive] games," Strickland said.

New Jersey, with one of the youngest starting lineups in the NBA, led by as many as five points early, but a conventional three-point play by Strickland shoved the Bullets ahead 21-19, and they scored six more unanswered points.

The Bullets built the margin to 52-38 before New Jersey (14-35) surged slightly and closed within eight at halftime.

The defense kept the Nets from making any serious overtures, restricting them to four fast-break points. The Bullets held a 70-36 scoring advantage in the paint.

"He has been emphasizing defense," Bullets forward Juwan Howard said of Bickerstaff. "And some of his schemes have been very helpful. They're causing a lot of turnovers and difficulties for the other team."

With Chris Webber sidelined because of lower back trouble, the Nets figured they had a shot at the Bullets.

"We are definitely disappointed with our play," said hard-working Nets forward Jayson Williams (15 points, eight rebounds). "We just didn't play the way we should have. It was definitely a game with should have won with Chris Webber out."

Now, they have to try it again tonight at the Meadowlands.

Bickerstaff was reasonably satisfied that his lessons have made some impact.

"You can't win basketball games unless you play defense consistently," he said. "Our effort was very good in terms of rotation. I think we went to sleep in the third quarter with the [three-pointers]. We weren't switching back into the lanes.

"We basically asked them not to be satisfied. It is just one win and we have to wake up tomorrow and do it all over again."

Said Howard: "We definitely were due for a victory. It was good to see the guys smiling for a change. But we can't be happy with just this. We have to keep moving it forward."

Guard Kendall Gill scored 25 for the Nets.

The Bullets also got a boost from backup center Lorenzo Williams. He had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting. He also had eight rebounds in extensive playing time after returning from knee problems. Guard Tim Legler, also back from knee surgery, scored seven in 22 minutes on 2-for-5 shooting.

The Bullets trailed through the first seven minutes, but staged a 9-0 spurt to gain the lead and rolled into the eight-point halftime lead.

Howard scored 16 of his 25 in the first half.

After a Howard basket put the Bullets up 52-38, the Nets rallied to close the half.

New Jersey, under first-year coach John Calipari, is now 6-19 on the road and was missing forward Ed O'Bannon, sidelined with a knee injury.

The fourth-best shooting team in the league, the Bullets hit 59.5 percent of their field-goal attempts (25-for-42) in the first half and held the Nets without a three-pointer in six attempts.

NOTE: The Bullets will play their final regular-season game in Baltimore on March 29 against the Dallas Mavericks.

1 10 Totals 240 36-73 29-36 6-27 9 33 107

Percentages: FG .493, FT .806. 3-point goals: 6-15, .400 (Reeves 4-9, Edwards 1-2, Gill 1-2, Kittles 0-1, McDaniel 0-1). Team XTC rebounds: 10. Blocked shots: 3 (Reeves, Edwards, Dare). Turnovers: 17 (Gill 5, Edwards 4, Kittles 3, Reeves 2, McDaniel 2, Bradley). Steals: 6 (McDaniel 2, Gill, J.Williams, Bradley, Kittles). Technical foul: McDaniel, : 36.5 first. Illegal defense: None.

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