LANDOVER -- There have been times over the past two games when Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard has been forced to play to near exhaustion. But with Chris Webber and Calbert Cheaney out of the lineup, he might as well get used to shouldering the load.
For Howard last night, it was just another night at the office -- 27 points and eight rebounds, good enough to help the Bullets defeat the struggling Dallas Mavericks, 112-100, before 18,756 at USAir Arena.
This was no solo act, as all five starters scored at least 12 points for the Bullets. Robert Pack had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Gheorghe Muresan took advantage of his size for 17 points, 13 rebounds (nine offensive) and a career-high three assists. It helped the Bullets overcome a lackluster first half when they fell behind by 11 points against Dallas, one of the league's worst teams at 8-21.
Washington improved to 16-14, an impressive mark considering the team didn't win its 16th game last season until March 11.
Howard played 42 of a possible 48 minutes, his most this season in a regulation game. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter and was a calming force when the Mavericks threatened late.
"I think it's all mental," said Howard, when asked whether he's getting tired. "When you think you're fatigued, that's when it affects you. I'm a young guy, there's no reason I should be tired. I can play 40 minutes any night."
He has had to do it four times in the past five games, a difficult chore for a power forward converted to small forward. Last night Howard chased sharp-shooter George McCloud (21 points) on the perimeter and Jim Jackson (33 points) all over the court.
"I have to check guys like Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill. I'm always up for that type of challenge," Howard said. "I love challenges. And I fear no one."
Fear definitely wasn't a factor for the Bullets' post players. The Mavericks, desperate for help at the position, use 6-foot-9, 220-pound Lorenzo Williams at center every game.
The result last night: Muresan and Jim McIlvaine combined for 20 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks. McIlvaine had seven rebounds and a career-high six blocks.
"I can't say enough good things about McIlvaine," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "Per minute, he is the leading shot-blocker in this league. You can't play good defense in this league if you don't have people in the back line who can either block shots or intimidate shots, and McIlvaine does both."
Pack stepped up, as well. In a duel with one of the most promising guards in the league, Jason Kidd, Pack hit 10 of 17 shots and committed three turnovers. Kidd had 13 points and seven assists, but hit just five of 18 shots and committed five turnovers.
The strong defensive presence of McIlvaine and Muresan also allowed Pack to help the Bullets to a 28-8 fast-break advantage.
"That's when we're at our best, when we're running the ball," Pack said. "If we can execute the fast break and get easy buckets, it just makes it a simpler game for us."
The win gave the Bullets a sweep of the two-game series with the Mavericks and improved Washington's home record to 11-5.
NOTES: Webber and Cheaney won't be available on the Bullets' trip to Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Mark Price will make the trip and practice. Webber was disappointed, being denied an opportunity to play in his hometown of Detroit. "I've only played in Detroit one time, my first year with Golden State, and I got hurt in that game," Webber said. "I'm disappointed. But the shoulder is still sore."