BOWIE -- Mention the critics who said the Washington Bullets might have a problem this season with too many low-post players and Chris Webber will quickly offer a different opinion.
"Juwan and I can't say we're better than [Charles] Barkley and [Hakeem] Olajuwon individually," Webber said, speaking of the Houston Rockets' duo. "But collectively, we're the best big-man tandem. And I think that's how I'm always going to feel."
Making the statement is one thing. Backing it up is another. And thus far, Webber and Howard have been backing it up, leading the Bullets to a 2-1 record entering tonight's game against the Charlotte Hornets.
Both players are averaging double doubles (Howard 19.7 ppg., 10.3 rpg.; Webber, 18.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), the only teammates in the league who are.
They were impressive in Wednesday's 96-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Webber had 22 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, and Howard had 22 points and 12 rebounds.
"Am I impressed? Yes," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam of the rebounding by Howard and Webber. "We're in need of rebounding when Gheorghe [Muresan] isn't here, and these guys have risen to the occasion.
What must concern opponents is that neither is at the top of his game. Howard is playing his way into game shape after missing most of training camp with shin splints. Webber is playing out of position at center until Muresan returns from a hip flexor injury. He has struggled in the low post, shooting 42.3 percent from the field.
"I'm off just because I'm off. But it's not like I'm walking around saying, 'Dang, I'm playing center,' " Webber said. "I played it in my rookie year and it helped me in the later years. I'm out of sync because I'm out of sync, not because of what position I'm playing."
Regardless of which position they play (Howard is playing power forward but will play most of his minutes at small forward when Muresan returns), they have a knack for finding each other.
In Washington's first possession in Saturday's home opener the play that coach Jim Lynam called resulted in a perfectly timed lob pass from Howard to Webber for a two-handed slam. On Wednesday, Howard was running a fast break and had point guard Rod Strickland on the left wing. Instead he tossed the ball behind him to Webber, whose slam made all the nightly highlight shows.
"Sometimes the plays are called, and sometimes it's just by eye contact," Webber said. "Since the first day I met him, we've been doing that. He's just such a great passer. And I'm going to finish everything that I get."
When Webber and Howard control the defensive backboard, it allows the Bullets to run their fast break. And Strickland has been leading that to near perfection. He had 16 points and seven assists Wednesday, and played his second consecutive game without a turnover.
Some might say the Bullets are benefiting from an early-season schedule in which the two victories have come against teams that are adjusting to playing without dominant centers (Orlando without Shaquille O'Neal and San Antonio without injured David Robinson). They even get a break tomorrow when they face Indiana, which will be without injured centers Rik Smits and Erick Dampier.
"Hey, we were short-handed when we went to San Antonio last year and we're playing short-handed as well without Gheorghe and Lorenzo [Williams]," Howard said.
Added Webber: "How fortunate were people with us hurt last year? I really don't look at injuries or excuses. We did a good job last year without our players. That's just the way the ball bounces."
Washington's 96-86 win over San Antonio marked the fourth time that Chris Webber and Juwan Howard have had double-doubles in the same game with the Bullets:
Nov. 7, 1996
(Washington 96, San Antonio 86)
Player ......... Pts. ... Reb.
Chris Webber ... 22 ..... 21
Juwan Howard ... 22 ..... 12
Dec. 27, 1995
(Washington 115, Golden St. 94)
Chris Webber ... 40 ..... 10
Juwan Howard ... 24 ..... 10
Dec. 15, 1994
(Utah 95, Washington 85)
Chris Webber ... 21 ..... 10
Juwan Howard ... 14 ..... 11
Dec. 8, 1994
(Washington 124, Dallas 121 OT)
Chris Webber ... 23 ..... 10
Juwan Howard ... 15 ..... 11
Pub Date: 11/08/96