LANDOVER -- In his one season playing for the Golden State Warriors, Chris Webber may have had some problems with the organization, but he never had a problem with the wide-open style of play. Last night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Webber got a chance to revisit old times.
The Lakers brought their run-and-gun style East last night, but it was Webber and the Washington Bullets who prospered. Webber scored a career-high 37 points, and the Bullets ran over the Lakers, 122-114, before a sellout of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
The Bullets are 10-10, the first time since 1986 they have been .500 or better after 20 games. The victory also was the third straight for the Bullets, marking their first such streak since January 1993, when they beat the New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers in succession.
In a game in which neither team played particularly well on defense (though Washington was impressive during an 18-2 fourth-quarter run), the Bullets had no problems with their offense. Juwan Howard (26 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) and Robert Pack (21 points, 10 assists, six rebounds) were in range of triple-doubles. Calbert Cheaney had 13 points and Tim Legler added 10 for the Bullets, who shot 55.3 percent.
But it was Webber who provided the highlights. From slamming home a pass that Howard tossed off the backboard, to stealing the ball from Nick Van Exel in the final quarter for a breakaway dunk, Webber had maybe his best game as a professional. He hit 16 of 24 shots and had eight of Washington's 16 dunks.
"I've seen him play some pretty good ones, but that was right up there with all the rest," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "And his sidekick [Howard] wasn't that far behind."
Early in the fourth quarter this seemed like a game that the Bullets were going to allow to slip away, after they fell behind 91-83 on a dunk by Corie Blount with 10:42 left.
Webber appeared furious, and his ensuing actions seemed to wake the team up.
Webber scored first on a tip, then broke loose for a dunk. That started the Bullets on an 18-2 run that covered a little more than four minutes. When Webber scored on a tip with 6:05 left, the Bullets had a 101-93 lead.
"It was a terrific run we had to get back into this," Lynam said. "We had a great stretch of defense."
Still, the Lakers kept up their fight, behind 33 points from Cedric Ceballos and 25 from Van Exel. The Lakers were trailing 112-106 and had the ball with just over a minute left when Webber switched to the perimeter to defend Van Exel. The Lakers' point guard was having his way with his herky-jerky penetration much of the game. But Webber stripped him just in front of the top of the key, dribbled the length of the court and slammed home his final points of the night.
"That's why I like the Western style of play," Webber said. "So I can go out and check guys like that. I'm smiling from cheek to cheek. I feel real good about the way we're playing."
Webber wasn't the only player having flashbacks in the track meet with the Lakers. Pack, who played one season with Portland and two with Denver, also looked forward to the up-and-down play.
"I knew going in that it was going to be this type of game," Pack said. "And that's my game. We want to run as much as possible so we can get some easy layups. We're a young, athletic team and we can do that."
Much of the game was a layup or dunk clinic, with the Lakers scoring 66 points in the paint and the Bullets 62. Washington had a 33-25 edge in fast-break points.
"We are a fast-tempo team," Ceballos said. "Washington just started to go hard both ways. It was an exciting game."
It came at a big time for the Bullets, who leave today on a five-game, weeklong road trip that starts in Portland tomorrow.
"It's great, getting to .500," Cheaney said. "But we can't sleep now. We've got to keep going. We have better things in front of us."