If the Washington Bullets improve as much in Chris Webber's third game back as they did between the first two, maybe their playoff hopes aren't so far-fetched after all.
Webber, who was out six weeks with a dislocated shoulder, came through with his second straight strong effort last night. And this time his teammates came through with some support as the Bullets crushed the Boston Celtics, 135-107, before a sellout crowd of 12,756 at the Baltimore Arena.
The city of Baltimore has been good to the Bullets; just over a week ago they surprised the Miami Heat here.
Webber scored 21 points in 30 minutes, hitting 10 of 15 shots, and Robert Pack had a game-high 26 points.
But the most unlikely lift was a 15-point effort by Brent Price, who before Thursday's loss to Cleveland learned that he was being replaced by Mitchell Butler as the team's backup point guard.
Washington held a 97-80 lead entering the final quarter, and it was Price who put the finishing touches on the blowout. Price opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer. Before three minutes had elapsed, Price had three three-pointers, and his long-range two-point shot with 9:19 left gave the Bullets a 112-82 lead.
Price would hit another three-pointer before the night was out, giving him four for the game and 15 points all coming in the final period. Tim Legler also added 15 points off the bench and Juwan Howard had his usual solid game, scoring 17 points and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds.
David Wesley had 17 points to lead Boston. Dana Barros added 16 points and Todd Day 14 for the Celtics, who have dropped four of their last five decisions.
XTC After two sub-par shooting efforts, the Bullets finally looked like the best shooting team in the league that they are, hitting 58.9 percent from the field.
Washington was hot from the start, shooting 54.2 percent (led by Pack's 19 points) in taking a 62-52 halftime lead.
Washington connected on its first three shots of the game and scored the game's first eight points before Boston coach M. L. Carr decided to call timeout. The Celtics, playing without center Eric Montross (left calf strain), responded by scoring the next six points, Dino Radja's jumper making it 8-6 with 8:16 left.
But the Celtics could do little to control Pack, who scored 14 points in the first quarter, hitting five of eight shots. Pack had his jump shot working in the early going, and his 15-footer with 4:36 left gave the Bullets their biggest lead of the quarter, 24-14.
Boston, which beat the Bullets by 10 points at the FleetCenter on Nov. 17, got over its slow start to shoot 50.0 percent in the first quarter. The Celtics ended the quarter with a 15-8 run, and rookie forward Eric Williams' two free throws with 1.9 seconds left closed the deficit to 32-31.
Lynam's main concern after the first quarter was protecting his starters: Webber, Gheorghe Muresan and Rasheed Wallace each picked up two fouls in the opening quarter. That resulted in Jim McIlvaine and Price getting playing time, after both sat out for the first time this season Thursday in Webber's debut.
With the reserves in the lineup, the Bullets were able to maintain their lead, increasing it to 41-35 after a layup by Butler with 8:31 left. Boston, hitting six of its first eight shots to start the second quarter, went on a 13-4 run and took a 48-45 lead after a jumper by Radja with 5:08 left.
Washington finished the half strong, holding the Celtics to one field goal over the final five minutes, outscoring Boston 17-4 to take a 62-52 halftime lead.
Webber and Pack combined to score Washington's first 10 points of the third quarter, with Webber's layup giving the Bullets a 72-55 lead. Washington would lead by as many as 17 points, that coming with 4:41 left after two free throws by Howard gave the Bullets an 85-68 advantage. Boston was unable to get out of its double-digit deficit the rest of the third. And the Celtics, who trailed by 16 going into the fourth quarter in Friday's loss to the New Jersey Nets, headed into the final quarter against Washington down 97-80.
Opponent: New York Knicks
Site: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: Ch. 50; WTEM (570 AM), WWLG (1360 AM)
Outlook: This is the second meeting of the season between the teams, with the Knicks winning at the USAir Arena, 110-109, on Nov. 10. New York has won 14 straight in the series. Patrick Ewing needed five stitches in his chin after a spill but returned in New York's 94-85 win in Philadelphia last night. It ended a two-game Knicks' losing streak.