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Bullets light a fire, tumble Cavs, 106-95 Howard regains touch; five-game slide ends


LANDOVER -- It was a game that the Washington Bullets entered with a five-game losing streak, and it was an occasion that the team had promised it would rise to. But the Bullets, who had not had a quality win since opening night, knew beating the Cleveland Cavaliers would not be easy.

So what did they do last night against the best defensive team in league? They became just the second team to score more than 100 points against the Cavaliers this season in winning, 106-95, at USAir Arena.

Even for this early in the season, the game was a big one, and the Bullets responded in a big way. Juwan Howard, coming off a four-point scoring night against New York on Tuesday, scored 25 points. Chris Webber had 23 and Rod Strickland 16 as the Bullets ended their longest losing streak of the season.

"We were bleeding," said coach Jim Lynam. "We needed a good win and got it against a good team. When they made their run, we kept our composure."

On Howard's effort, Lynam said: "There was something about his demeanor. It was about him just forgetting it all and letting go."

"It was good to come back and put that game behind me," Howard said, referring to his problems against the Knicks. "It's been very depressing the last three games, to struggle like I've done. I've never struggled like that before."

The win couldn't have come at a better time for Washington, with impatience growing over a team that many expected to be one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

"The waiting is over," Bullets general manager Wes Unseld said before the game. "We shouldn't be talking about being patient at this time."

Certainly not 18 games into the season, with the Bullets not yet playing well on a consistent basis.

"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."

Last night, Unseld got a feel of just what could be right for this team. The Bullets shot 56.2 percent and scored more than 100 points against a team that had been limiting opponents to just 79.9 points a game this season.

Disappointed by their effort in New York, the Bullets, almost to a man, had promised they would get after the defensive-minded Cavs.

And against a team that had allowed just 40.6 percent shooting a game going into last night's contest, Washington shot 57.1 percent on its way to a 61-47 halftime lead.

Howard found a bit of redemption in almost a flawless 19 minutes as he hit all six of his field goals and three of three free throws on his way to 15 points.

Although the Bullets trailed 22-17 after Bobby Phills converted a three-point play with 4: 05 left in the first period, the pace of the game was more to their liking. The Cavaliers were playing more up-tempo, which is likely to happen when a team begins a game connecting on seven of its first eight shots.

The Bullets came back with a 9-2 run, taking a 28-24 lead after a dunk by Webber with 2: 04 left. During the run, after Strickland converted a three-point play, Washington was leading a team that at the time was shooting 90.9 percent.

By the end of the quarter, the Cavaliers were shooting 70.6 percent. Nevertheless, they found themselves trailing 31-28 to a team that had gotten nine points each from Webber and Howard.

In the second quarter, the Bullets began to play a little full-court trap to try to get back into the game. It was successful; the team held the Cavaliers without a field goal for the first 7: 53.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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