Bullets shake Celtics, pick up playoff ground 105-92 victory puts team within 2 1/2 games of 8th spot

March 27, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- It's the Cleveland Cavaliers that the Washington Bullets are chasing for the eighth and final playoff spot, yet Tracy Murray doesn't even follow them. He didn't watch the Cavaliers lose to San Antonio on Tuesday, and doesn't plan on watching Cleveland at Houston tonight.

"We can't worry about Cleveland, we can't worry about Orlando, we can't worry about Indiana," Murray said. "We have to take care of our business. Here."

The Bullets took care of their business last night in beating the Boston Celtics, 105-92, before a crowd of 16,023 at the USAir Arena. And suddenly the playoffs are within sight for the Bullets who, in winning for the sixth time in their past eight games, moved to within 2 1/2 games of the Cavaliers for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. By the end of the week, the Bullets -- if they win both their games and if Cleveland loses two -- could be a half-game behind the eighth spot.

"One thing I know about stretch runs -- people tend to look over their shoulders," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "It's important for us to try to let them hear our footsteps."

The footsteps will be heard loud and clear if the Bullets can play the way they did last night, although the win had a lot to do with a lottery-bound Boston team that has the NBA's second-worst record (13-58). The Celtics are 0-20 against teams in the Atlantic Division, with four divisional games remaining. No team has gone 0-for-the-division.

So with the Celtics as their foes, the Bullets got to boast a couple of season-high games from Murray (24 points) and Rod Strickland (17 assists, three shy of his career high). Both Chris Webber (26 points, 13 rebounds) and Juwan Howard (20 points, 11 rebounds) had double doubles.

That the Bullets had better ball distribution than at any time this season had a lot to do with Boston's haphazard defense.

"I thought he ball movement was very, very good," Bickerstaff said. "We got the ball to the right people with three or four passes."

And that's how Murray found himself so wide open on some shots. The reserve forward hit eight of 14 shots, including five of nine from three-point range.

"I think the confidence on this team is growing and growing," Murray said. "We're starting to believe. We know we have to win, but we have to keep up the type of effort that we have."

That effort has gotten the Bullets, with 13 games left, in a serious playoff hunt. And that in itself is a surprise, considering most had written the team off after a home loss to Philadelphia on March 9.

"They should be excited about this," Bickerstaff said. "I see a collective purpose. The commitment to succeed seems to be there."

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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