LANDOVER -- Disgusted with losing, Chris Webber came out and made a bold prediction prior to last night's game: The Washington Bullets would beat the Milwaukee Bucks. Then Webber and rookie forward Juwan Howard loaded the rest of the team on their backs, and took them on a ride that ended weeks of frustration.
In probably the best game that the two have played side-by-side since joining the Bullets, Webber came two assists shy of a triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Howard tied a career-high with 31 points as Washington defeated the Bucks, 114-110, last night before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
It was the first win in nearly a month for the Bullets, who had not tasted victory since beating Cleveland on March 19. The win also snapped a 13-game losing streak, thus avoiding the distinction of having sole possession of the longest losing streak in franchise history (the 1966-67 team also lost 13 in a row).
The Fab Two were brilliant. Webber hit 13 of 15 shots from the field, hitting his last 10. Howard hit his last nine shots of the game, going nine of 10 from the field in the fourth quarter when he had 19 points.
It offset strong efforts from Milwaukee's Vin Baker, who had 30 points, and rookie forward Glenn Robinson, who scored 18 points in the fourth quarter in a rally that fell just short.
The Bullets took an 83-80 lead into the fourth quarter and, instead of immediately blowing the lead, Washington for a change built on it. The Bucks pulled to within 90-88 on a three-pointer by Robinson. But the Bullets responded with an 11-2 run that, after a dunk by Howard, gave them a 101-90 lead with 6:29 left.
Milwaukee, fighting desperately for playoff positioning, fought back. The Bucks picked up their defensive intensity, forcing the Bullets to rush shots toward the end off the 24-second clock. And the Bucks began to click on offense, pulling to within 107-106 after Eric Murdock was credited with a field goal on a goaltending call against Webber with 1:29 left.
Howard on the next trip got the ball on the right baseline and, with the shot clock again winding down, hit a short jumper to put the Bullets ahead, 109-106, with 1:07 left.
The Bucks were within three points with a chance to tie in the final seconds, but Marty Conlon, spotting up for a three-point attempt, stepped out of bounds and the Bullets escaped with the win.
This was a must-win night for the Bucks, who lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday and started the day two games behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But it was also a game that Webber guaranteed that the Bullets would win, and he played the first half like a man with every intention of keeping his promise. Webber scored 17 points in the half, had six rebounds and five assists in 18 minutes and the Bullets, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, were able to take a 55-52 halftime lead.
With Calbert Cheaney missing the game with the flu, Mitchell Butler stepped into the starting shooting guard spot. And the Bullets got some balance out of their offense in the first quarter, with all five starters getting on the board.
Three times, the Bullets led by five points in the quarter, the last time coming on a short jump-hook by Howard with 6:49 left that gave Washington a 16-11 lead.
Webber got in foul trouble, picking up his second foul midway through the first quarter. And the Bucks came back, tying the game at 20 on a jumper by Lee Mayberry, and taking a 22-20 lead when Baker scored on a tip with 3:37 left.
Washington would score the final four points of the quarter, on a jumper by Doug Overton and a layup by Howard to take a 24-22 lead at the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, the Bucks tied the game at 31 on a three-pointer by Todd Day with 8:54 left. Then Webber began to take over. Webber scored eight of Washington's 10 points over a span of 3:44, and his reverse lay-up with 5:54 left gave the Bullets their biggest lead of the half, 41-33.
Milwaukee was able to stay in the game partly on the strength of its three-point shooting, hitting five of seven from beyond the arc (the Bullets were one of seven). And partly behind the shooting of Eric Murdock, who scored 16 points in the quarter.
And the Bucks were able to pull to within 53-52 on a three-pointer by Robinson with 38 seconds left.
Anthony Tucker's layup 12 seconds later gave the Bullets a 55-52 lead that would hold until halftime.
The third quarter belonged to Baker. If records were kept for dunks in a quarter, Baker would have taken ownership last night. Baker had seven dunks in the quarter, often using his quickness to shake free from Gheorghe Muresan. He hit eight of 10 shots in the quarter, and scored 17 points as he single-handedly kept the Bucks in the game.
Baker's final points of the quarter on a dunk gave the Bucks an 80-79 lead with 1:11 left. But the Bullets got a driving lay-up by Don MacLean (who played after missing two games with a sore && right hand) and a dunk by Howard just before the buzzer to take an 83-80 lead into the final quarter.