WASHINGTON -- In the midst of what was not the most heated of evenings, Juwan Howard's temper flared and he had to leave the game. But like most things in the final quarter of Washington's 120-99 victory over the New Jersey Nets last night, Howard's departure was oflittle or no consequence.
Thus coach Bernie Bickerstaff's blase reaction to the ejection, one of the few blemishes in a game in which the Wizards posted their highest point total of the year and shot 57.9 percent, also a season-high.
"It's one of those things," Bickerstaff said. "Tomorrow's another night. They vented it; sometimes you have to get it out of your system."
By the time Howard accepted an alley-oop from Chris Webber and received a technical foul from referee Tim Donaghy for hanging on the rim, the Wizards were already up 24 points at 92-68 with 9: 13 left to play.
On a normal night, the resultant chatter with Donaghy that led to Howard's ejection and Webber's sixth foul might have been disastrous.
Not last night, however, as Tracy Murray scored a season-high 26 and Rod Strickland had 23 points and 14 assists, helping the Wizards pick up their first win over an Atlantic Division opponent.
The victory was the fourth straight at the MCI Centerfor the Wizards (9-11), who had six players score in double figures, leaving little for Bickerstaff to complain about.
"We've got to do a better job of making them put the ball on the floor," Bickerstaff said. "Other than that, we played a pretty nice basketball game."
The Wizards scored the first six points of the game, exploiting a blatant mismatch that had the 6-foot-5 Kendall Gill guarding the 6-9 Howard, who scored all six of those points.
"We knew that we would exploit that matchup until they changed, which we forced them to do," Strickland said.
However, the Nets started making their outside shots and tied the game when rookie Keith Van Horn, who had 11 points in the opening quarter, hit a jump shot to make the score 10-10 with 6: 23 left in the first quarter.
Van Horn's three-pointer with 5: 36 left to go capped a 10-0 Nets run that put them ahead 15-10.
Just as quickly, Washington scored nine straight points to take a 19-15 lead after Murray's three-pointer from the baseline with 3: 29 left.
The three-pointer was one of seven that Murray would hit, aided by the Nets' inability to make proper rotations within their trapping defense.
Not surprisingly, Murray was left open, and less surprisingly, Murray made more of his 11 three-point attempts than he missed.
"Well, when there's a trapping defense, somebody's going to be left open," Murray said. "That's my job, I'm supposed to make 'em pay."
Tied 31-31 with 8: 53 left, the Wizards took over, benefiting mainly from the outside shooting of Murray balanced with the inside play of Webber.
The Wizards' 18-4 run ended at the 2: 52 mark, when Murray hit a three-pointer for a 49-35 lead.
Van Horn brought the Nets within eight points at 53-45 with a fast-break dunk. Van Horn finished the first half with 17 points, leading the Nets along with David Benoit, who had 10 points in the first half.
Sam Cassell (Dunbar), who had averaged 17 points over the previous five games and entered as the team's leading scorer, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with eight points.
Pub Date: 12/10/97