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 was seated also, his blank stare aimed at the Madison Square Garden ceiling.
Their expressions told the entire story. For the 13th time since 1991, the Washington Bullets set foot in Madison Square Garden, seeking a win against the New York Knicks. And for the 13th time the Bullets left the arena losers, this time a 85-73 defeat.
For the Bullets (7-11), it was the fifth straight loss in a season that's going nowhere fast. A matchup that at the start of the season figured to match the two Webber top teams in the Atlantic Division, instead put on display near Broadway one of the biggest flops in the NBA.
Except for the 20 points and 12 rebounds by Webber, it was a night that the Bullets would soon like to forget. Howard scored four points on 2-for-13 shooting -- the third time in two weeks he has failed to score in double figures. And Strickland, playing in his hometown against his former team, looked ragged with four points and eight turnovers in 35 minutes.
The Bullets lost badly on a night when the Knicks managed to shoot just 40.0 percent. Still they won their fourth straight game, getting 15 points each from Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and John Starks.
On paper the Bullets appeared to have accomplished everything possible to control the first half. They held the Knicks to 33.3 percent shooting and forced Ewing to miss his first eight shots. And still the Bullets found themselves trailing at the half, 42-33.
While the Knicks did little right, the Bullets didn't do anything right. Washington actually shot better than the Knicks (37.5 percent), but a poor half from Webber, Howard and Strickland (a combined 4-for-18 from the field) and 10 turnovers were the main reasons why the Bullets trailed.
In a season where teams have struggled to score, last night's first quarter was almost as bad as it gets. Together, the two teams combined to hit just two -- that's right, two -- field goals outside the paint. The Knicks shot 28.6 percent in the quarter, and had a 17-16 lead when it was over.
For Ewing, it was a first quarter he would like to forget as he missed all five shots -- and was booed loudly by the Madison Square Garden fans, upset that Ewing criticized them last week.
Washington's biggest lead, 16-11, came after Howard scored on a layup with 1: 38 left. But while the Bullets went scoreless the rest of the quarter, Starks came off the bench and provided an offensive spark for the Knicks.
Starks, who is playing much better than starting shooting guard Houston, scored six points in the final minute, with his three-pointer with 41 seconds left giving the Knicks the 17-16 lead.
In the second quarter, the Bullets once again got a lift from their bench and led, 30-26, after a jumper by Tracy Murray with 5: 45 left. But that would prove to be one of just two field goals the Bullets would score over the final six minutes of the half.
And that cold streak was enough to help the Knicks take control. Ewing began to heat up, scoring all eight of his first-half points in the second quarter. It was a jumper by Ewing with 3: 02 left that tied the game. Later Chris Childs hit a wide-open three-pointer to give the Knicks the lead for good, 35-32.
The Bullets trailed at the half, 42-33.
It got no better for the Bullets in the third quarter, as New York led by as many as 12 points.
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.
Pub Date: 12/11/96