Bullets take hard road to pass 76ers, 107-106 Cheaney's 24 save face, end 9-game visitors' drought

March 05, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- When the game finally came to an end, Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard smiled like he hadn't smiled all season. He ran to center court and bumped chests with Calbert Cheaney, the man who saved the Bullets from a great deal of embarrassment last night.

Cheaney's baseline jumper with 19 seconds left -- from almost the identical spot that he won a game against Phoenix on Jan. 8 -- helped the Bullets beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 107-106, last night before 13,063 at the CoreStates Center.

The win ended a nine-game road losing streak for the Bullets, who have won three of their last four. The Bullets won down the stretch without Chris Webber, who left the game in the opening minute of the fourth quarter with bursitis in his right hip. Webber did not accompany the team to Miami last night, and will be seen by doctors today. He could join the team in time for tomorrow's second game of the home-and-home series against the Heat.

For their effort the Bullets (27-31) remained 4 1/2 games behind Orlando, which won at Seattle, for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Only the ineptitude of the lottery-bound Sixers (15-43) allowed the Bullets to sneak away with the win. After Cheaney's shot gave the Bullets a 105-103 lead, the Sixers still had a chance to tie the game -- or win. But Rex Walters, taking the ball out on the sideline, expected Derrick Coleman to move toward him. Instead, as the ball left Walters' hands, Coleman cut toward the basket, and the pass landed right in the hands of a stunned Juwan Howard. Howard got the ball to Rod Strickland, who was fouled and made two free throws to make Coleman's closing three-pointer meaningless.

"I saw the ball coming and just stepped in and stole it," said Howard, who scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. "It was definitely surprising to see it coming in my hands. But it just feels good to get a win, I don't care how we did it."

In a season full of embarrassing losses, this would have been the worst for the Bullets against a Sixers team that just got home from a four-game, 1-3 West Coast trip.

Still the Sixers played the Bullets close from beginning to end in a game that had 20 lead changes and 18 ties. It was the first time this season that Washington won a game by a single point, and just the third time the team recorded a win by three points or less.

"It was a close one, and those are games we hadn't been winning in the past," Howard said.

This was a game that the Sixers could have easily won. However, Philadelphia hit just six of 19 field-goal attempts in the final quarter, and missed four late free throws that could have put the game away.

Still the Sixers had a 103-100 lead with 1: 01 left after Jerry Stackhouse (25 points) hit two free throws. Strickland responded by converting a three-point play with 52 seconds left, tying the game at 103.

After Clarence Weatherspoon missed for the Sixers, the Bullets had a chance to go ahead. Strickland drove and kicked the ball out to Tracy Murray, who found Cheaney wide open on the right side. Cheaney let fly, and hit all net for a 105-103 lead. Those were the last of his season-high 24 points.

"It felt real good when I released it," Cheaney said. "It's one of those feelings you get -- it don't get much better than that one."

The Bullets got a major contribution from Ashraf Amaya, who, before last night, had a season high of nine minutes. Amaya played nine minutes in the fourth quarter alone, and finished the game with four points and seven rebounds.

"Amaya had a physical presence inside," coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "I told him the key was for us to get possessions and he helped us out."

For Amaya, it was his first meaningful minutes all season.

"I had nothing to lose -- if I go out and do bad I'll be in the same situation I've been in all season," Amaya said. "It feels great. It feels like I've been starving, and I finally got something to eat."

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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