Wizards leave Landover on downer, fall to Bulls Jordan, Chicago close arena with 88-83 win

November 30, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- The final NBA game to be played at the US Airways Arena was shaping up to be a night of celebration. The Washington Wizards built a 17-point, first-half lead, and the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls looked exactly like the struggling team that they've become.

But by the time the multicolored balloons and confetti were released from the rafters at game's end, there was little to celebrate. In fact, to hear players talk after the Wizards' 88-83 loss, a real celebration would have taken place had the organization imploded the structure after the team dropped to 0-5 at the arena for the season.

"Tear it down, tear it down," said Washington forward Tracy Murray, in one of the printable remarks made by players. "There's been nothing but injuries for us here, nothing but bad luck. Ever since I've been here, it's like some body put a hex on this place. Just tear it down."

After 20 seasons in Landover, the franchise opens a new era Tuesday against the Seattle SuperSonics at the MCI Center in Washington.

The loss dropped the team to 576-369 overall in the arena originally named the Capital Centre.

Let the record reflect that, while the Wizard fans left unhappy, Michael Jordan tried his best to put on a good show in the building's finale. Jordan scored 29 points as the Bulls, playing their sixth game of a seven-game road trip, ended a two-game losing streak to improve their record to 9-7.

"We need to get ourselves back on the right track," said Jordan of the Bulls, who have been hurt by an injury to Scottie Pippen and off-court dissension. "With all that's been happening, I think we have to let winning take care of everything. Everything."

As usual, Washington's big three -- Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland -- posted solid numbers. Howard had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Webber 21 points and nine rebounds, and Strickland 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Strickland, the league's assist leader, has recorded double-digit assists in four straight games. His eight double doubles lead the team.

And, as usual, the team struggled with its shooting.

Each of the five starters shot less than 50 percent and, as a team, the Wizards shot 38.1 percent. Washington shot 60.9 percent in the first quarter, during which they build a 15-point lead. That lead would increase to 17 points in the second quarter but, over the final three quarters, the Wizards shot just 30.0 percent.

"We just didn't sustain it," Strickland, who hit just three of 15 shots, said of the team's effort. "It's very tough, frustrating. But we have to keep playing."

Washington got off to its good start behind Webber, who scored eight of his 10 first-quarter points in the game's first four minutes. Chicago, which entered the game as the sixth-lowest-scoring team in the league (90.4 points a game), hit just eight of 25 shots (32.0 percent), a big reason the Bulls trailed 33-18 after a three-pointer by Calbert Cheaney at the buzzer.

But the Wizards lost momentum when Webber was inadvertently hit in the eye late in the first quarter, and momentarily went back to the locker room. By the time he returned to the game with 5: 09 left in the half, Washington's lead was down to seven points and whatever momentum the Wizards had was lost.

"I was disoriented for a while, even after I got back into the game," Webber said.

Said Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff: "Before the game we asked Webber to jump-start us, and when he went out we started to slide. We had a nice rhythm going."

Jordan demonstrated he had a nice rhythm going at the end of the half when, on an inbounds play that started with just over a second remaining, he caught a pass in the corner and hit a high-arching jumper that gave Chicago a 49-47 halftime lead. And the Wizards never really recovered, scoring just 36 points in the second half on the way to the loss.

"It's fitting that Michael Jordan finished here with that type of performance," Bickerstaff said.

For the Bulls, it was a bit of payback for a 90-83 loss in Chicago on Nov. 12, when the Wizards held Chicago to 30 points in the second half.

"Chicago played well, and Chicago can be a very vindictive team," Bickerstaff said. "There's just been inconsistency in our performance. We're definitely capable of playing better."

Maybe that will happen at the MCI Center. The Wizards will have to perform -- they can't rely on new surroundings to be the solution to problems they have experienced all season.

As for the players, they are just happy to bid good riddance to the US Airways Arena.

On a night when the Washington closed a chapter in its franchise history, the players were booed by the home crowd as they walked off the floor.

"I'm happy to leave," Webber said. "I've never played in any type of environment where the crowd is against you. We're all excited about going to the new place and breaking it in."

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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