Wizards ring up 7th straight MCI win Perfect in new home, they cool off Hornets, 106-86

December 20, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards religiously slapped

rosin on their hands before taking the floor last night, but it would not be necessary.

During its 106-86 conquest of Charlotte, Washington built a 26-point first-half lead that would be less slippery than the late three-point lead it gave away during a loss to the same team nine days before.

Chris Webber had 24 points and a season-high 19 rebounds, and Juwan Howard added 26 points as the Wizards extended their MCI Center win streak to seven games, and ended the Hornets' five-game winning streak.

The win was also the third in a row for Washington, which has shown a new vigor on defense.

The Wizards held Charlotte to 39.1 percent shooting from the field, and limited the impact of long-range shooters Glen Rice (13 points) and Dell Curry (14). It also helped the Wizards develop an offensive flow that led to 51.8 percent shooting for the game.

In the wins over Utah, Miami and Charlotte, the Wizards have allowed an average of 82 points.

"The thing that's been helping us is that we're not waiting offensively," Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "The defense is up and it will get you a steal and an easy basket."

The defensive edge helped Washington overcome four ineffective possessions to go on a 20-2 run over the last 8: 54 of the first quarter, building a 22-10 lead.

In that quarter, the Wizards managed to gobble six Hornets turnovers and convert them to 10 points.

Though Webber and Howard ended up leading the Wizards, they were quiet at first. Calbert Cheaney was the one who RTC emerged, scoring six of his 16 points during a 2 1/2 -minute span wherein Washington took the lead that it would not relinquish.

Though the second quarter was more competitive, Webber and Howard were into it by then, combining for 20 points as Washington scored 38 points and ended the half with a 60-41 lead.

During one two-minute stretch in that quarter, Howard scored 12 points, finishing with a 19-foot jump shot that made the score 54-28 with three minutes left.

The second half brought more of the same, a collection of Rod Strickland dishes (15 assists) to Webber and Howard, along with more dominance on the boards, where the Wizards out-rebounded the Hornets 49-40.

Beating Charlotte (15-8) allows the Wizards (12-14) to put a new twist on history. They have come up short in the previous three meetings, including the game last week in which they came back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead with 1: 04 left, only to lose, 104-101.

"It's not like they should feel good about owning us," Bickerstaff said, "because we had chances to win in their building, twice."

Now, however, the Wizards must venture out of the MCI Center -- where they have had uninterrupted success -- and on to the road where they are 5-9.

But the Wizards believe that environment is having less and less to do with their play.

"It's no longer the new building," Webber said. "It's us. We've turned up the intensity."

In tonight's opponent, the 3-22 Toronto Raptors, Washington should have a forgiving canvas on which to paint that picture, even without Terry Davis (left Achilles') and Lorenzo Williams (flu).

Bickerstaff, however, identified overconfidence as the one factor that could spoil the happy mood.

"The worst thing we can do is go out on the road trip and assume we're playing inferior competition," Bickerstaff said. "If we go and take anything for granted, then we are going to come back home under .500."

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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