Webber, Wizards put away Lakers 31-point, 10-rebound effort paces 96-86 triumph that puts Washington over .500

March 03, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Washington Wizards boosted their lead to 11 points early in the fourth quarter over the Los Angeles Lakers, fans braced for the collapse. At some point you just expected the Washington team that got blown out in its previous game by the lowly Dallas Mavericks to appear.

The Washington team that produced that terrible outing never surfaced last night. Instead the Wizards actually resembled a decent NBA team, walking off the MCI Center court with a 96-86 win over the Lakers.

It appears the Wizards caught the visitors at an opportune time, as the Lakers (39-18) lost for the sixth time in 11 games to finish a 3-3 East Coast road swing. The Wizards got back above .500 (30-29) to move into ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings (a half-game ahead of Orlando and Milwaukee).

"Saturday was an emotional thing, and, collectively, we played awful," said Washington coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "I thought [the win] was a total team effort."

That effort was led by Chris Webber, who came up two assists shy of a triple double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Yet Webber only contributed three points in the fourth quarter, which featured a balanced attack led by Calbert Cheaney (eight of his 21 points).

Rod Strickland added 19 points and eight assists, although he wasn't necessarily celebrating after the game as he shook off the effects of getting leveled by Shaquille O'Neal's elbow with 1: 44 left.

"I didn't see [the elbow]. I just felt it, and I guess he was frustrated," Strickland said. "For us, we just have to take the good with the bad. This was a good win, but we have to be able to string some of these together."

Lack of consistency that has hurt the Wizards the entire season seems to have also hit Los Angeles. On Sunday the Lakers went into Madison Square Garden against a New York team playing without its top three centers and -- despite the obvious match-up advantage in the middle with O'Neal -- managed to lose.

Last night O'Neal led the Lakers with 28 points and 15 rebounds, but looked less than dominant against a Washington team that not only made it difficult for him to catch the ball but also fouled him hard in the late stages of the game when he did. Most of that banging came from Terry Davis, who had four points and one rebound in 23 minutes.

"Too physical, too physical to play for me," said Davis, a physical player himself. "It's like grabbing a bear. He's so big, so strong and agile. He posts strong -- always trying to get deep for a dunk."

There were plenty of dunks from the Lakers, but the squad seemed heavy on style and lacking in substance. Maybe that has to do with missing Nick Van Exel, one of four All-Stars on the team. Fellow All-Stars Eddie Jones (19 points) and Kobe Bryant (four points) looked ordinary.

Bryant was bothered by a right ear infection that resulted in his taking the train to Washington. That ailment aside, he has hit just 14 of 54 shots over his past five games (25.9 percent), which is probably why coach Del Harris limited him to 12 minutes last night -- and didn't even play him in the fourth quarter.

Asked if Harris were sending him a message by sitting him in the final quarter, Bryant -- the youngest All-Star in league history -- said: "Maybe. Who knows? Who knows? We haven't had a chance to talk, but any time you have to sit through a stretch like that and your team is down, you want to get in there and contribute."

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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