Bullets roll, 131-110, relent on Iverson Washington regains lead in playoff-berth race

April 15, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- With a week left in the season and a playoff spot on the line, the Washington Bullets were sleepwalking against one of the league's worst teams. With so much at stake, Juwan Howard couldn't understand it. And he let his teammates know.

"We were a little lackadaisical and I pulled everyone together and said, 'Let's bring some intensity to the game,' " Howard said. "And everyone responded."

And despite a fifth straight 40-point-plus game from Allen Iverson -- this one somewhat controversial -- the Bullets ended up with their highest-scoring game of the season, recording a 131-110 win over the Philadelphia 76ers last night at the CoreStates Center.

The Bullets (41-38) again have sole possession of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference after Cleveland's loss to Charlotte last night. The Cavaliers are 40-39. Both teams have three games to go, and will face each other in Sunday's regular-season finale.

Howard and Chris Webber each had 27 points, and Webber tied a career high with 21 rebounds, as the Bullets bounced back from Saturday's disappointing loss in Charlotte.

The Bullets won without center Gheorghe Muresan and guard Tim Legler. Muresan suffered a strained back during the afternoon shoot-around, and Legler had a stomach virus. Both players are listed as day-to-day.

After the Sixers stayed close during most of the first half, the game was over by the midway point of the third quarter, when Washington built a double-digit lead and cruised the rest of the way.

That's not to say the game didn't end with drama.

Iverson, who entered the game having scored more than 40 points in four straight contests, began the final minute last night with 36.

The Bullets were intent on holding him under 40, and pressured him into taking several forced shots.

"As a competitor, you don't want that to happen," Rod Strickland said.

That led 76ers coach Johnny Davis to call three timeouts in the final minute of a game that was over long before. At first, the Philadelphia fans were understanding, cheering the efforts to get Iverson 40. But at the final timeout, with 24 seconds left, those who remained booed loudly.

Tired of the prolonged game, the Bullets, coming out of the final timeout, simply stopped playing defense. Iverson stepped up to the three-point line and, uncontested, hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 19 seconds left to give him 40.

Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff would not comment on the no-defense move in the final seconds, saying, "I've got enough to worry about my own team."

The Bullets didn't particularly like the fact that the Sixers continued to extend the game, and the sign of protest by not playing defense was "the consensus on the bench," Strickland said.

Davis, who is likely to be fired by the 76ers at the end of the season, explained after the contest that he "wanted to salvage something out of the game" by calling the timeouts.

"That was Bernie's decision not to play defense on our last possession," Davis said.

To Iverson's credit, most of his scoring came during the flow of the offense, and he looks like a better player than at the start of the season, when he often appeared out of control.

Regardless of how he has scored his 40 or more in the five straight games (he set the NBA record for such games when he scored 50 against Cleveland on Saturday), what he has done over that stretch is impressive.

"I said, 'Let it go, it has to end sometime,' " Iverson said of the streak. "But everybody said I was so close, so go ahead and get it. We have to look each other in the eye and do what's best as a team, and they wanted me to get it."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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