LANDOVER -- Even after Golden State Warriors rookie Joe Smith outscored and out-rebounded him in their first meeting nearly a week ago, Chris Webber knew that a chance at redemption would come soon enough.
"I took a lot of abuse in Oakland," ex-Warrior Webber said of the boos he received during the Washington Bullets' 15-point loss Friday. "And I kept saying, 'Five or six more days, and we're coming back here.' "
Here is the USAir Arena and Webber, playing for the first time this season before a national television audience, had the game of his three-year career. He had a career-high 40 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to help the Bullets defeat the Warriors, 115-94, before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
The win evened the Bullets' record at 13-13, and secured the team's first winning record for the month of December since the 1985-86 season. Washington is 8-5 in December, with one game remaining, tomorrow against New York. The win also broke a six-game losing streak against Golden State dating to February 1993.
In compiling his first triple double of the season, Webber was equally dominant in each half, recording 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in the first half and 21 points, five rebounds and five assists in the second half. He hit 18 of 25 shots, including three of four from three-point range, and pretty much did as he pleased against Smith, the No. 1 draft pick who was playing his first pro game in the state where he starred for two years with the University of Maryland.
"He [Webber] really did a fantastic job," said teammate Juwan Howard, who didn't do too badly himself with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. "I never saw him play this like that before. I just hope he keeps it up."
When Webber fed Robert Pack for a layup to record his ninth assist with 5:33 left, the only question left was whether he would get the triple double. Howard and Tim Legler both missed shots on feeds from Webber over the next several minutes.
It wasn't until 2:16 remained that Webber tossed a pass to Legler, who quickly made the three-pointer to secure the feat. The next dead ball, Webber left the court to a loud ovation.
"I told him I was going to take the shot, no matter what," Legler said. "You really couldn't tell before the game that it was big for him, because he has his same game face on. But he sure played like it was big."
As for Smith's departure, it was somewhat less glamorous. After outscoring Webber 27-26 last week, Smith had decent numbers last night with 15 points (7-for-11 shooting) and eight rebounds. But as he soared for a dunk on his last shot, Smith was met at the basket by Jim McIlvaine, who rejected the shot for his fourth block of the night. With 5:17 left, Smith, who suffered a bruised right hip in Tuesday's game at Detroit, left the game for good.
"I'm very disappointed," Smith said. "I wanted to win because it's on the road, and it's my homecoming."
The fact that Smith played collegiately at nearby Maryland wasn't lost on Webber, who had a lot of compliments for Smith afterward.
"Joe Smith is going to be an awesome player," Webber said. "I think he needs to get in the weight room. The sky's the limit for him."
At the same time, Webber understands the importance of the team's home-court advantage.
"A lot of people teased me about Joe doing so great against me, and this is his home," Webber said. "But this is my house. It's Juwan's house.
"Plus," Webber added, "we don't get a chance to play on national television but once every 10 years, so we have to make the best out of it."
Also playing with a little added incentive was Legler, who played part of the season with the Warriors last year. Legler also had a career-high game with 20 points, hitting five of six shots and four of five three-pointers.
"I try not to get too excited about teams, but I don't think they valued me at all last season," said Legler, who also has played for Phoenix, Denver, Utah and Dallas in his six-year career. "I wanted to show them they were missing something. I'm happy the way things turned out."
And so was coach Jim Lynam, who for the second straight home game saw Webber establish a career high. In the last game here on Dec. 15, Webber scored a then career-high 37 points against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"He was sensational," Lynam said. "I've seen him play some good ones, and this was his best. He did it all tonight."
Which is why Webber was all smiles afterward.
"If Juwan said it was my best game, I guess he knows," Webber said of his former college teammate. "I'd lie if I said I wasn't on top of the world. I feel great."
NOTE: Rony Seikaly led the Warriors with 17 points. . . . The Bullets played without guard Calbert Cheaney (sore right leg). He was replaced by Ledell Eackles, the last Bullet before Webber to score 40 points in a game (against Atlanta in February 1992). . . . Rasheed Wallace played only five minutes, scoring two points. . . . Gheorghe Muresan did not score.
Webber vs. Smith
Player, Date, Pts, Rebs, Ast
Smith, 12/22, 27, 10, 2
Webber, 12/22, 26, 6, 5
Smith, 12/27, 15, 8, 0
) Webber, 12/27, 40, 10, 10