'Selfish' Bullets stumble to 76ers Angry Bickerstaff cites lack of defense after 99-93 setback

March 10, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- To be honest, the playoff chances of the Washington Bullets were pretty much shot weeks ago. Still, because the team had yet to be mathematically eliminated, there was a slim piece of playoff thread within the team's grasp.

Yesterday, that thread snapped.

The Bullets were exposed for what they are -- a team not ready for any type of postseason play. In a must-win game against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the team went belly-up in a 99-93 loss before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at the USAir Arena.

It was the second straight loss for the Bullets (28-33), who missed a golden opportunity to gain a game on the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference after the Orlando Magic had lost earlier in the day to the Phoenix Suns. Instead the Bullets remained 4 1/2 games behind the Magic, with 21 left.

"That was probably the most selfish basketball game that I've seen since I have been here," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "Team defense was nonexistent. It was an [expletive] performance."

The fans thought so, booing the Bullets often late in the game as they fell behind by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter and were unable to overcome a Philadelphia team that improved to 16-44 -- moving to within 16 games of Orlando and that eighth position.

Bickerstaff's mention of selfish play resulted from a total of 14 assists by the Bullets -- two more than their season low of 12 on Jan. 20 against New York. Outside of Rod Strickland's eight assists, the other starters totaled two.

"He was on the sideline, he got a good look and I won't disagree," Strickland said of Bickerstaff's comment on selfish play. "We need to look at that, and we need to think about that. We were kind of flat. We didn't have any energy."

If the Bullets were selfish, the Sixers were well beyond selfish with a season-low nine assists. It's rare that a starting point guard can play 39 minutes and record just one assist, but that's what Allen Iverson (19 points, six rebounds, one assist) did yesterday.

After falling behind by nine points early in the fourth quarter, the Bullets came back to take a 78-77 lead with 6: 57 left after a short jump hook by Juwan Howard (19 points). But Clarence Weatherspoon (22 points) scored on a tip-in with 6: 26 to give the Sixers the lead for good, 79-78.

And Jerry Stackhouse, who had problems shooting all game, suddenly found his groove in the end and scored 11 of his 24 points in the final quarter. Stackhouse, who had trouble shooting from the outside, hit a three-pointer with 3: 37 left that gave the Sixers an 84-80 lead. And twice when Calbert Cheaney went to double the low post, Stackhouse drove the lane for dunks with no defender offering resistance.

"We didn't rotate like we should have," Cheaney said. "[Stackhouse] got to the basket at will. You double the post, you have to have some weakside help."

Another reason the Sixers came out victorious was because they continued to pound the ball inside to Weatherspoon and Derrick Coleman (20 points, 18 rebounds). By going inside, the Sixers were able to shoot 38 free throws (making 30).

The Bullets shot 19 free throws and hit 10. Gheorghe Muresan was an inside presence, hitting six of 10 shots on his way to a 12-point, 13-rebound game. But there were many times he was up against an overmatched Scott Williams, and the Bullets failed to get their 7-foot-7 center the ball.

And failed to gain ground in the East, a huge disappointment because the Bullets believe they have to be near-perfect the rest of the way.

"Looking at the standings and how much we want to be in the playoffs, we aren't supposed to lose any games we're supposed to win," Howard said. "Not to take away anything from the Sixers, but this is a game we were supposed to win. You pinpoint games you must win, and this was one of them. It's a very disappointing loss."

But Howard also seemed disturbed that Bickerstaff called the team selfish in its play.

"I'm not going to go with any rebuttal," Howard said. "Hey, he said we were out of shape after just one game watching us."

That Orlando also lost yesterday made the severity of yesterday's defeat greater.

"You have to seize opportunities," Bickerstaff said. "And the way you seize opportunities is that you do not concern yourself about Orlando, and take care of your own house."

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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