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Bullets confident team is beginning to mesh Key is improvement by Howard, Strickland


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- After the Washington Bullets started a six-game West Coast trip with a victory Sunday night -- extending the team's winning streak to three -- Chris Webber was asked if the team was beginning to click.

With a wink of the eye, he responded, "I'll tell you when we get back to D.C."

Webber would prefer to wait until the trip is over, but he really didn't have to answer. The proof lies with the team's play on the court, where the Bullets were looking more and more cohesive as a unit entering last night's game against the Sacramento Kings.

When the Bullets won three straight games last month, Webber was the only starter playing consistently. But now Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland appear to be showing signs of coexisting well in each other's space, and that was evident in Sunday's 110-102 win over the Golden State Warriors.

"It feels good to have everyone clicking on the same level, especially on the road because that's when you have your back to the wall," Howard said. "To get everyone playing well at the same time, it puts momentum and confidence in you."

Howard had appeared to lose his confidence recently during a five-game stretch when he failed to score in double figures on three occasions. But Howard, over his last three games, has averaged 23 points, relying more on his medium-range jumper and less on drives to the basket that were often thwarted.

"You have to put the bad games behind you, because we have so many games to play," Howard said. "Why dwell on one game? We're human and everyone has a bad game. You just have to stay mentally strong, come out and do your best the next time."

The biggest key for the Bullets is the fact that Strickland is beginning to look like the assertive player who averaged 18.7 points and 9.6 assists last season with Portland. While he adjusted to the team, Strickland deferred to Webber and Howard and wound up just standing around.

"In Portland I was the first or second option," Strickland said last week. "So here, I probably find myself just watching a little bit more. And it's a little different."

A simple play against Golden State displayed Strickland's blossoming leadership role. On a switch, Warriors guard B. J. Armstrong found himself defending the bigger Jaren Jackson. Strickland deviated from the set play, directed Howard out of the post and got the ball to Jackson, who scored easily in the lane. It was one of Strickland's season-high 15 assists.

"The last few games I've been getting more comfortable," Strickland said.

As for Webber, he's having a season worthy of All-Star consideration, and recorded his sixth career triple double Sunday night.

Many believed he would have to defer his leadership role to Howard this season, but Webber has averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds and blocked 50 shots.

"Chris has been a monster all year," Strickland said. "He's been the main person on this team who has done it all from the beginning. We've had guys struggle, but he's been consistent throughout."

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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