Bullets fight losing battle Just as Webber is set to return, Howard likely decked by brawl


BOWIE -- There was nearly a chance that the Washington Bullets would have most of their key components in uniform tonight at the Baltimore Arena with Chris Webber set to return after missing 10 games with a strained left shoulder.

But then Juwan Howard had to get himself involved in a fight in FTC Wednesday's game at Miami, an altercation that probably will earn him a one-game suspension.

Although the league yesterday didn't announce any action concerning the fight between Miami Heat guard Bimbo Coles and Howard, chances are the word will come down today. That means that Howard probably will be in street clothes tonight when the Bullets play host to the New Jersey Nets in the third of four games played here this season.

With video of the fight, and an aerial photograph being displayed prominently in broadcasts and newspapers across the country, Howard -- shown on tape throwing several punches after Coles charged him -- was more embarrassed than anything.

"I tried to avoid it, but it's two competitive guys competing, and sometimes things like that will occur," said Howard, adding that Coles elbowed him to start the incident.

"That's not my style, that's not the way I compete," said Howard, a second-year pro whose inspired play has led the Bullets during Webber's absence. "I compete with heart, effort. I give 110 percent and I never want a fight to occur when I'm playing."

With Howard's 20.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game likely on the sidelines, it will give Webber a bigger responsibility should he be healthy enough to play. Webber, who hasn't played since falling on the shoulder in a Dec. 29 game against New York, said he'll make a decision when he wakes up today.

"It feels pretty good, it's a little sore," Webber said after practice yesterday. "At one time it hurt pretty bad, but that was one time. My conditioning felt pretty good. Hopefully, there's not a lot of soreness [today]."

Bullets coach Jim Lynam said he was pleased with what he saw of his forward yesterday.

"I thought he had a good day, a very good day," Lynam said. "But each time he's come back, he's been ready. He does what he's supposed to do when he's inactive. He works on his shooting, conditioning and rehab."

Lynam simply shrugged his shoulders when asked about having the possibility of Webber, Howard and recently returned Mark Price playing together for the first time -- and losing it with Howard possibly out.

"If in fact it happens, it's only one game," Lynam said. "It's always good to have as many of your guys back as you can."

Price only played 16 minutes Wednesday night as he works his way back from foot surgery. He has been more cautious since aggravating his left foot by playing three games in four days after making his season debut Jan. 10.

"It's not coming quite as fast as I hoped," he said of his foot after practice, "but I'm going to try to keep playing. Hopefully, we're starting to get everybody back. It should give us a boost physically as well as emotionally."

Webber, who re-separated his shoulder in a preseason scuffle with Chicago center Luc Longley, said Howard was handling his anticipated suspension well.

"He wasn't proud of it, but he wasn't ashamed of it either," Webber said of his old Michigan teammate. "He's a man, he had to defend himself. If I were on the court, it would have been even nastier."

And yet Webber regrets his preseason incident with Longley, and the resulting injury that has limited him all season.

"That's exactly what the surgery is for, to get to 100 percent, and that's why I'll have it at the end of the season," said Webber, who missed the first month of the season and said he's felt "useless" watching from the bench the past three weeks. "The only reason why I'm not doing it now is it would waste a season. It takes too much time to rehab. Hopefully, I'll make it to the end of the season."

Webber is hoping he'll make it to the court tonight, where he's looking forward to playing with Price for the first time. Yesterday was their first practice together.

"In my lifetime I've played with one of the best small forwards in Chris Mullin, and definitely with one of the best point guards in Mark Price," Webber said. "It feels good to have him on board."

At the Arena

New Jersey Nets vs. Bullets

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:30 tonight

TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WTEM (570 AM)

Tickets: Some available in all sections

Bullets tonight

Opponent: New Jersey Nets

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: The Bullets have not lost four straight this season, and look to avoid doing that tonight against New Jersey. The Nets (15-21) have won two straight. F Armon Gilliam, plaany fan donating a winter clothing item will receive a certificate for a free ticket to a future Bullets home game.

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