With Motor Missing, Bullets Can't Compete

April 26, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CHICAGO -- Chris Webber stole a glance at the stat sheet on his chair. He laughed, shook his head and yelled something to a teammate. Clearly, he saw something he couldn't believe.

His eight points, perhaps?

His 24 minutes?

Webber wouldn't say.

"We lost the game," he said last night after fouling out in the Bullets' 98-86 playoff loss to Chicago. "They were the better team. They played real hard. Good thing it's a five-game series."

Webber wasn't going to complain about the officials, not after a late-season loss at Charlotte in which the Bullets alleged that referee Jim Clark was getting back at the All-Star forward for showing him up in a previous game.

The truth is, he didn't have much a case. The Bullets aren't going to beat the Bulls, everyone knows that. But without a more significant contribution from Webber, they could get embarrassed.

It didn't happen last night -- the Bullets had a chance to pull within three points with less than nine minutes left. Indeed, the loss was all the more frustrating, considering how well they played without Webber for long stretches.

He picked up his first foul 18 seconds into the game, his third 57 seconds into the second quarter, his fourth midway through the third. Juwan Howard also was in early foul trouble, but recovered to score a team-high 21 points. Webber never got going.

Was it difficult without him?

"Y'all know that," Bullets point guard Rod Strickland told reporters. "He gives you 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds], blocked shots, steals. It was hard for him. He couldn't get into the flow. The refs took him out of the game."

That's debatable, especially when the Bulls finished with more total fouls (28) than the Bullets (25). Strickland said the Bullets have had trouble with the refs "all season," but do they expect that to change against Michael Jordan and Co.?

"I don't want to talk about the refs anymore, please, please," Webber said. "This is going to be an issue [tomorrow]. I don't want to get a fine. I don't want to get in any trouble. Obviously, it was my fault. It's going to be my fault."

Good answer, Chris, even if you don't believe it.

Coach Bernie Bickerstaff also ducked the question.

"We didn't have any control of the handicap we had," he said.

Whatever, the Bullets need to get over it, and quickly. They accomplished so much this season. They need to make this series a positive experience, a building block for future playoff runs.

It's time for the Bullets to mature.

They got reasonable efforts last night from Strickland (19 points), Gheorghe Muresan (12) and even mistake-prone Calbert Cheaney (11). But when Strickland leads them in rebounds with 10, you know they're in trouble.

How bad was it? Webber and Howard combined for only nine rebounds. The Bulls killed the Bullets on the offensive boards -- 16-5 in the first half, 20-8 for the game.

"I feel I played a bad game, because obviously I wasn't in there to help the team," said Webber, who was the NBA Player of the Week the final week of the regular season. "It was hard sitting on the sideline watching the guys work so hard."

Especially when the Bulls aren't at full strength.

Rodman and Toni Kukoc returned last night, but neither played particularly well. Rodman had one point and nine rebounds before getting ejected. Kukoc missed nine of 10 shots.

Who even noticed? The Bulls committed half as many turnovers (11) as the Bullets. They shot only 38 percent, but hit every big shot down the stretch. Jordan finished with a game-high 29 points after scoring only four in the first quarter.

Yes, the Bulls dropped three of their final four games in the regular season, but they're 19-1 in first-round playoff games since 1991. And, in case you're wondering, they've lost only twice at the United Center this season.

What was it coach Phil Jackson said? "It's all us. It's all who we are. It's not about our opponents." True enough. But tomorrow game's will be significantly more interesting if Webber stays on the floor.

"It was frustrating. I feel bad for him," Bullets assistant coach Clifford Ray said. "It wasn't like he wasn't ready to play. He was. But all of a sudden, he and Juwan, our two best players -- bam! -- were out."

Howard committed two fouls in the first five minutes, and he and Webber sat the latter stages of the first quarter. Strickland scored 10 points in that period. If the Bulls had shot better, they could have pulled away early.

"It was tough," Howard said. "But one thing I said to myself was that I couldn't allow frustration to come in, I had to keep my composure. Chris said the same thing. We pulled together."

The Bullets trailed by four points at halftime, eight at the end of the third quarter, five midway through the fourth.

They still gave a chance to win a game in this series -- if not tomorrow, then maybe at home Wednesday.

Then again, that stat sheet didn't lie.

They can't do it without Chris Webber.

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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