Bullets' big three loom large over Kings, 97-89 Webber, Strickland, Howard pace 4th in row


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ask Washington Bullets forward Chris Webber about the boos that have followed him in the first two games of this West Coast swing, and he'll tell you he's fueled by them. The Bullets can only hope Webber gets the same treatment over the final four games of the trip.

Webber, met with jeers again last night, came through with a 24-point, 14-rebound showing, and the Bullets defeated the Sacramento Kings, 97-89, last night at Arco Arena.

"I'm just having fun," Webber said. "It feels good to get these wins on the road, especially after we lost five games in a row. We just want to have fun and start enjoying life. When you're on the road and you have 20,000 people against you, it makes these 12 people that much closer."

The win was the fourth straight for the Bullets, the team's longest winning streak of the season. Washington also returned to the .500 mark (11-11) for the first time since Nov. 29.

Once again, the Bullets got big performances from their top three players. Besides Webber, Juwan Howard had 21 points and eight rebounds. And Rod Strickland, after recording 22 points and a season-high 15 assists in Sunday's win over Golden State, had another strong outing with 17 points and eight assists.

"No question it feels good to get back-to-back road wins," Strickland said. "We're trying to get some momentum and string together some victories. Without a doubt, we're playing the best basketball of the year right now. Now we're finally getting some consistency."

Washington took a 76-66 lead into the fourth quarter, and was not really threatened over the final 12 minutes. The Kings got a big performance from Mitch Richmond, who had 28 points, six assists and six rebounds. Billy Owens also played well, scoring 17 points.

But the Kings got little offense from their backcourt. Bobby Hurley, making his first start of the season, had seven assists -- all in the first half -- but only scored two points, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who has been a disappointment in Sacramento this season after coming over from the Denver Nuggets, had eight points.

For the second night in a row, the Bullets benefited from hot shooting in the first half. By connecting on 63.2 percent of their shots, and 84 percent of their free throws, the Bullets had a 61-51 halftime lead.

And it was the big three that carried the Bullets through -- Webber, Howard and Strickland combined to score 37 of Washington's points. Strickland had 15 points and five assists in the first half. Howard had 12 points, and Webber added 10.

"You can't play much better than Webber is right now," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "He's playing well. I thought the first half was excellent. We were not as good defensively in the second half, but our defense was effectively better."

The Kings, who lost starting point guard Tyus Edney to a sprained ankle in a loss to the Clippers Saturday, played only seven players because of injuries and coach Garry St. Jean's decision not to use Duane Causwell and rookie Kevin Salvadori.

"We were short-handed in terms of people we could use tonight," said St. Jean. "We defended them pretty well in the second half, holding them to only 38 points, but the turnovers were our nemesis."

The Bullets, who saw Latrell Sprewell score a career-high 43 points Sunday, were victimized by a hot-shooting guard for the second night in a row. Richmond scored 13 points in the opening quarter and his three-pointer with 5: 05 left tied the game at 14.

From there the two teams went back and forth the rest of the quarter. The game was tied at 27, but the Bullets scored the final four points. The last two came on a Webber break where he dribbled, brought the ball around his back and slammed it home.

The Bullets cooled down at the start of the second quarter. They missed their first four shots before Webber scored on a jumper for a 33-27 lead. The Kings missed their first five shots as well, but then connected on six straight field-goal attempts. A layup by Owens with 5: 51 left gave Sacramento a 41-40 lead.

That would be Sacramento's last lead of the half. Richmond picked up his third foul with 2: 53 left and went to the bench. After he sat, the Bullets outscored the Kings 8-2 to finish the half with a 61-51 lead.

Once again, however, the Bullets allowed a team back in the game after leading at the half.

The Bullets suffered through two big scoring droughts. Washington went a span of 3: 13 without a field goal, and the Kings closed to within 65-59 after a layup by Richmond with 8: 20 left.

The Bullets' drought came after Strickland was forced to the bench after running into a screen by Olden Polynice, but the Kings never got closer than five points.

Strickland, while a bit groggy, came back on the court for the final two minutes of the third quarter, which the Bullets closed with a 5-0 run.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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