LANDOVER -- A year ago, he was an All-Star, so playing poorly in three straight games going into last night's meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers had Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard perplexed.
"It's been [tough] the last three games to struggle like I've done," said Howard, who scored just four points Tuesday against the New York Knicks. "I've never struggled like that before."
But Howard broke out of his slump last night, scoring a game-high 25 points. It could not have come at a better time for the Bullets, who halted a five-game losing streak with a 106-95 win over the Cavaliers before 11,275 at USAir Arena.
Just how surprising was last night's result? The Cavaliers went into the game as the best defensive team in the NBA, allowing league lows in points (79.9) and field-goal percentage (40.6).
But the Bullets showed Cleveland's defense little respect, shooting 56.2 percent and scoring the most points against the Cavs this season (only Detroit had scored more than 100 points against them before last night).
The Bullets won this game by dictating the tempo early, throwing a mild press at the Cavaliers in the first half -- something they usually resort to when they face a big deficit.
Washington forced the Cavaliers into a season-high 22 turnovers, nine by point guard Terrell Brandon.
Once behind, Cleveland had to go to a small lineup, at times playing Danny Ferry at center. That helped Washington score 56 of its points from the paint, with easy baskets occurring so often that Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello said he "thought it was a dunk contest."
The Bullets' Chris Webber had his share of dunks on the way to scoring 23 points. Rare outside accuracy also helped the Bullets, who hit six of 10 three-pointers. Tracy Murray hit four of five from long range and scored 14 points.
"We just had the Cleveland Cavaliers playing our type of game," Howard said. "We had them playing an up-tempo style, and we created a lot of baskets in transition."
The Cavaliers did mount a third-quarter comeback, cutting the 17-point deficit to three at one point, helped by hitting 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) three-pointers.
"But what we did was respond defensively," Lynam said.
The big effort came at the right time for the Bullets. Besides ending the losing streak, it was important that the Bullets were able to win a game against a quality opponent -- maybe the first time that's happened this season.
"This could have been a win against De Paul, for all I care," said BTC Rod Strickland, who scored 16 points. "We ran the ball a little better. We need to do that more."
But can Washington do that on a consistent basis? The team's struggles have had everyone concerned, including general manager Wes Unseld.
"The waiting is over," Unseld said before the game. "'We shouldn't be talking about being patient at this time." Certainly not 18 games into the season.
"Before I give my impression of the team, I'd like to address them myself," Unseld said. Asked when that address might come, Unseld responded, "Soon."
"Whatever I say is speculative," Unseld added. "I'd much rather wait until I get a feel for what's wrong."
If the Bullets can show that last night wasn't an aberration, perhaps Unseld can put his talk on hold.
"We just need to stop the bleeding," Webber said. "We stopped the bleeding momentarily."
NOTES: Howard fell on his left wrist in the first half, but X-rays taken after the game were negative. The Bullets had been out-rebounded in eight straight games until last night, when they had a 33-29 advantage.
Pub Date: 12/12/96