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West Coast no longer has Bullets quaking

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Just before Washington was to embark on its current five-game, seven-day West Coast trip, Juwan Howard was asked what he remembered about last year's horror show that saw the Bullets drop three of four games, extend a losing streak to eight games and lose Chris Webber to injury -- all in a matter of four days.

"It was so frustrating that I don't even want to think about it," Howard said. "This is a new team, a new year. We've put the past behind us. The way we're playing, we feel we can win every game on the trip."

That's not going to happen, after Washington's 106-104 overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. But the Bullets, over the past two weeks, have demonstrated that maybe this is the season the team could once again return to postseason play.

No, a 12-11 record in no way demonstrates any degree of dominance. But consider this: the Bullets didn't win their 12th game last season until Feb. 14. The five-game winning streak that was broken Wednesday was Washington's first since 1989. Should the Bullets win either the game against Golden State tonight, or tomorrow's game at Seattle, it would mark the first time since the 1986-87 season that the Bullets had a winning record on a West Coast trip of at least four games (that was also the last season the Bullets had a winning record, 42-40).

"They have a terrific team," said Lakers coach Del Harris after Los Angeles lost a track meet to the Bullets last Friday. "With their front line, they pose some serious matchup problems."

The Bullets also have the good fortune of playing in the Eastern Conference where, going into last night, only four teams were at least three games above .500. Outside of the Chicago Bulls (21-2), Orlando Magic (19-6), the New York Knicks (18-6) and Miami Heat (13-10) -- when Alonzo Mourning is healthy -- the rest of the conference can be described as mediocre at best.

For Washington, the key will be to avoid injuries. Although Webber injured his ankle in warmups before the Phoenix game, his left shoulder has thus far held up since his return from the injured list. Tonight's the anniversary when Webber, in his first game against his former team, dislocated his shoulder while diving for a loose ball against Golden State.

"This time, it'll be different," Webber said before the trip. "I'm expecting things to be calmer, more pleasant."

Taking out the trash

There's never been a question of Don MacLean's cockiness. Once, while he was with the Bullets, MacLean suggested the team print a poster bearing his likeness. "I'm buff," he told the team's media staff, in his cocky California beach-boy twang.

So it's no surprise that MacLean reportedly did quite a bit of trash-talking while matching a career-high 38 points in the Denver Nuggets' win over the Warriors Wednesday -- talking that cost him a tooth.

MacLean caught a forearm in the mouth from Chris Gatling in the fourth quarter. No foul was called, and MacLean and his teammates were furious. Later, MacLean flattened Gatling while setting a pick. Yesterday the league had its say: Gatling was fined $5,000, and MacLean $3,500.

Both were suspended for one game following the incident that seemingly has given birth to a bitter rivalry.

"[MacLean] was having a good game," Warriors guard Tim Hardaway said. "This is your first time scoring 30 points since high school. Come on. He's a coward. That's why he got his tooth knocked out."

Hardaway said MacLean kept on talking even after his tooth was knocked out -- although exactly what he said was unknown.

"I don't know, we couldn't understand him," Hardaway said. "His tooth was out. He was going 'bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh.'

"How many times do we play them?" Hardaway added. "I can't wait to get at him. We'll take out the rest of his teeth."

MacLean, rarely at a loss for words, was so furious he declined comment after the game. Next game between the teams: March 9 in Denver.

Around the league

New Jersey Nets point guard Kenny Anderson, who turned down a six-year, $40 million contract offer and has expressed his desire to test the free-agent waters, has been on the bench for the fourth quarter of recent games. . . . Former Maryland star Walt Williams, now with the Sacramento Kings, underwent surgery on Monday to repair a broken nose. He could return Dec. 26. . . . That also could be the day that another former Terp, Tony Massenburg, returns. Massenburg had won the starting power forward spot with the Toronto Raptors during the preseason, but broke a bone in his foot on Oct. 21 and has been on the injured list since the start of the season.

Quotes of the week

* From Philadelphia 76ers forward Sharone Wright, after hearing that the Philadelphia Eagles had beaten the Arizona Cardinals in NFL action on Sunday: "If they had lost to Arizona and Buddy Ryan, that would be like us losing to New Jersey and Shawn Bradley getting 50."

* And from Toronto coach Brendan Malone, on the best way to stop Orlando center Shaquille O'Neal (before the Raptors defeated the Magic last Saturday).

"The best way to stop him is at the border. Let's get the immigration people involved."

By the numbers

* New Jersey Nets center Yinka Dare, in his second NBA season, has yet to record an assist (Dare played in just one game last season).

* By recently replacing Bill Blair with general manager Phil Saunders, the Minnesota Timberwolves are now under their fifth coach in just over six seasons.

* Golden State coach Rick Adelman recorded his 300th career win with Tuesday's victory over Charlotte. He reached that milestone faster than everyone except Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, K. C. Jones, Larry Costello and John Kundla. The six ahead of Adelman have all won NBA titles (Adelman went to the finals twice with Portland, losing both times).

* The 21-2 start by the Chicago Bulls ties the second best start in league history. Only the 1969-70 New York Knicks and the 1993-94 Houston Rockets started better -- both were 22-1 and won the NBA title.

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