Bullets derail Blazers, 108-104 Webber's 26 help end Portland's 11-game streak

March 23, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- On a night when the Trail Blazers came to USAir Arena as the hottest team in the league, the Washington Bullets had much more incentive beside ending Portland's 11-game winning streak.

"We're just trying to make the playoffs; that's what it basically comes down to," Bullets forward Chris Webber said. "We need to keep playing, and keep winning."

With the postseason in mind, the Bullets won for the fifth time in eight games, recording a 108-104 win last night before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

The win allowed the Bullets to remain 3 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers won in Dallas last night.

Webber had a solid all-around game for the Bullets, with 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Point guard Rod Strickland scored 22 points (14 of 18 from the foul line) and had 11 assists against his former team.

But this was a game that the Bullets won at the defensive end. Holding the Blazers to just one field goal over the first 5: 27 of the fourth quarter helped Washington take a nine-point lead. When Portland came roaring back and threatened to make a game of it in the final minutes, the Bullets played solid defense.

"We were pretty good defensively," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "The shots they got, they earned."

The Bullets needed their defense to step up late, after the Blazers tied the game at 103 when Isaiah Rider hit two free throws with 33 seconds left.

A layup by Gheorghe Muresan (17 points) with 19 seconds left gave Washington a 105-103 lead. Portland center Arvydas Sabonis (20 points, nine rebounds) was fouled on the next possession, but with a chance to tie the game, he only made one of two free throws with six seconds remaining.

Chris Whitney was fouled immediately, and the Bullets' reserve guard hit two free throws with six seconds left for a 107-104 lead.

With a chance to tie, the Blazers got the ball to Clifford Robinson, which ordinarily is not a bad move. But Robinson had not scored to that point, missing his first six shots.

Robinson missed again, and ended the game scoreless in 41 minutes. And that preserved the win for the Bullets.

"We executed down the stretch," said Bullets guard Calbert Cheaney, who scored 17 points -- 11 in the final quarter when he hit five of seven shots. "I think our play of late has been pretty good. "We're coming around to Bernie's way of thinking."

This was a game full of subplots. One was the Bullets' attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive against a red-hot team. Another was Strickland playing against his former team, the Blazers, where feuds with coach P. J. Carlesimo led to his departure.

Strickland said he doesn't even think about revenge when he plays the Blazers.

"Once I'm out of a situation, it's over," Strickland said. "They're playing great. They have some great young talent. If they keep it together, they're going to be a good team.

"I think it's a great win because that was a team that was playing very well," Strickland said. "We got a nice victory."

Strickland's role in the win was keyed to his ability to get to the low post, where he out-muscled Kenny Anderson. Although Strickland hit just 4 of 13 shots, he was often fouled going to the basket. Seeing that, the Bullets kept going to that play. The result: Strickland's 18 free-throw attempts matched a career high, and his 14 free throws made were a season high.

"Rod is a great post player -- after Juwan [Howard], he's the next best post player on this team," Webber said. "Usually when he goes to the post, [opponents] have to double, and that leaves us open. I like that. It's like role-reversal.

A final subplot was former Bullets forward Rasheed Wallace going against his former team for the first time at USAir Arena. Criticized for his attitude here, Wallace has proven a solid contributor with Portland. The second-year forward had 25 points and 10 rebounds last night.

That wasn't enough for the Blazers, who lost for the first time in nearly a month and were swept in their two-game series with the Bullets. For Washington, it was a crucial win during a time in which the team can ill afford to let opportunities slip way.

"We have to pray Cleveland loses," Webber said. "Pray they lose and pray we win. That's what it's going to take."

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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