On road to improvement, Bullets poised for next step They're getting foes down, but need to put them away


LOS ANGELES -- It is clear that, with five wins in their past six games, the Washington Bullets are becoming a good team. But Harvey Grant, who has played with some very good teams in Portland, believes there's still a step the Bullets must take.

"Right now, we don't have that killer instinct," Grant said after Thursday's 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. "And that's something we have to work on."

Had the Bullets possessed that killer instinct on Thursday, once they went up by 17 points in the third quarter against the Clippers they would have put away one of the NBA's perennially bad teams. But instead of players like Chris Webber and Juwan Howard sitting at the end of the bench enjoying a blowout, the Bullets had to scrape and claw -- even falling behind in the fourth quarter -- before coming up with the win.

This season the Bullets have generally started games well but hit cold stretches in the second half. The problem has been that when the Bullets get a lead and get into the style they generally thrive on -- the fast break -- they tend to get a bit too cute and too fancy. And too prone to turnovers: They committed nine in the fourth quarter on Thursday, eight over a five-minute stretch during which the Clippers briefly took the lead.

"We really had our chances on the break, and we didn't convert," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "We had about eight or nine more turnovers than we normally have. And, unfortunately, they ran off it."

Howard and Webber, who both scored 25 points, were the biggest culprits. Each had three turnovers in the fourth quarter (Howard had eight for the game), most of those coming on the break when the players tried no-look fancy passes.

"We were getting too fancy, including myself, and trying to make exciting plays and maybe being a little bit too unselfish," Howard said. "We have to find ways to put teams away where, with two minutes to go, we're up by 30."

That could help the Bullets in two ways: It would help control the minutes of Webber and Howard, who both played 42 minutes on Monday against Sacramento and are averaging 39.8 and 39.5 rTC minutes, respectively; and it could help the development of reserves Ben Wallace, Ashraf Amaya and Matt Fish, who can't get into games if the Bullets fail to put teams away early.

Wallace, Amaya and Fish have combined to play four minutes over the past six games. All three sat out the Clippers game.

"Once we start putting people away, we are going to be a really good team," Grant said. "The Chicagos, they get up 15 or 20 points and they put their foot on your neck. So we have to work on getting that killer instinct."

Webber said blowing teams away is the next step for a team that is, right now, simply trying to be good.

"I think we've developed an instinct to win, and that's what it's all about," Webber said. "We won [against the Clippers]. It's not going to matter two weeks later that they came back from a 17-point deficit."

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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