NEW YORK -- As the final minutes ticked away, both Chris Webber and Juwan Howard sat at the end of the bench wearing blank expressions. Rod Strickland, seated nearby, also had a blank stare, gazing down at the Madison Square Garden floor.
For the 13th time since 1991, the Washington Bullets played at Madison Square Garden, seeking a win against the New York Knicks. And for the 13th time the Bullets came away losers, this time suffering an 85-73 loss before a sellout crowd of 19,763.
But this time had to be more disappointing, as the Bullets lost for the fifth straight time overall. The media here, who haven't seen the Bullets all season, were expecting to see the new and improved team that was expected to compete for the Atlantic Division title. Instead they saw a Bullets team that, had it opened nearby as a major Broadway production, would be considered a major flop.
"I'm kind of baffled," said Strickland, after the loss before his hometown fans. "We're not doing anything consistent, we're just not on the same page. I don't think anything's going right."
Who's to blame for the latest loss? The finger can be pointed in many different directions. Strickland was accepting some of the blame, scoring just four points (he hit two of 11 shots) and committing seven turnovers. And so was Howard, who had four points, hitting two of 13 shots.
If you're counting, Howard has hit nine of 36 shots (25.0 percent) over the last three games. Up until three weeks ago, Howard had scored in double figures in 22 straight games. Now he has failed to do so three times in five games.
"I'm not doing my job," Howard said. "I'm a big reason why this team isn't playing well, and I'm man enough to admit to that."
Only Webber recorded respectable numbers, with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But, again, the Bullets were hurt on the boards.
New York had a 56-41 rebounding advantage, with Buck Williams coming off the bench to grab 15 rebounds in 29 minutes. Seventeen of New York's rebounds were on the offensive end.
"Rebounding is hurting us, that's the bottom line," Harvey Grant said. "I think everybody on this team knows what we're supposed to do. Right now our biggest problem is rebounding and if we do that, everything else will come."
Maybe it's that simple. Most likely, it's not. The Bullets lately also have had an inability to put the ball in the basket. The Bullets shot just 37.5 percent, but it wasn't because the shots weren't there. When the Bullets were open, they simply were unable to capitalize.
Not that the Knicks were shooting the lights out, finishing at 40 percent after a 33 percent first half. Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and John Starks shared scoring honors with 15 points apiece.
"Being assertive on the offensive end is important, and that's one thing we're not doing," Howard said. "My shot has been off, and I've been working on it. I'm just trying to get my confidence back."
Still, with the team's recent struggles there's no sense of panic, although the frustration level is increasing with every loss.
"There's no way we should be four to five games under .500," Grant said. "It's still fairly early, but we can't afford to dig ourselves into a deeper hole. We have to come out [tonight against Cleveland] and get after people. I think that will happen."
It's almost crucial that the Bullets get at people in their next two games, both at home against Cleveland and Denver on Friday. After that the Bullets go on a six-game West Coast trip, a journey that has not been kind in past years.
"We need to have a good West Coast trip," Webber said. "If we go out there and have something incredible happen, that would make a statement.
"There's a lot of games left," he added. "We still have time."
Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Site: USAir Arena, Landover Time: 7: 30
TV/Radio: HTS/WWRC (980 AM)
Outlook: Don't look for many points tonight. Not only are the Bullets shooting poorly but the Cavaliers' walk-it-up style and dogged defense usually makes for low-scoring games. Case in point: Last night they lost to Miami, 76-74. Cleveland won at USAir Arena, 98-96, in overtime in the second game of the season.
Pub Date: 12/11/96