LANDOVER -- In just their second year of existence, the Toronto Raptors have dominated the Washington Bullets, winning four of five games going into last night. Included in that was a victory earlier this season in which the Bullets blew a 19-point lead.
"We remembered what happened in that game," Bullets forward Tracy Murray said. "We unraveled a bit up there. We didn't want it to happen again."
And it didn't last night as the Bullets used defensive pressure to break open a close game on the way to a 100-82 win. It was the second straight win for the Bullets, and their seventh in nine games. More importantly, the Bullets (14-13) moved over .500 for the first time in over a month, and play five of their next six at home.
"We have to stop playing seesaw with this .500 thing," said Juwan Howard, who had 21 points, second to Chris Webber's game-high 25. "Now is the time we can make a turnaround."
Last night the turnaround came on the defensive end, where the Bullets were successful in containing guard Damon Stoudamire. Chris Whitney came in at the start of the fourth quarter and extended the defense to pick up Stoudamire full-court, and when Stoudamire penetrated the Bullets provided a lot of help. The result: Stoudamire had just two points and one assist in nine fourth-quarter minutes.
"He just ran out of gas," Whitney said. "It's tough to play someone who has a total green light."
The defensive pressure actually picked up at the end of the third quarter when the Raptors tied the game at 64 with 3: 16 left. Over the next 9: 10, the Raptors were held to two field goals. The Bullets went on to lead by as many as 22 points.
"I think we showed one of our better defensive stretches of the year," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "After their first eight to 10 minutes when they were knocking down threes [five in the first 4: 19], we got better from that point on."
The Bullets were led by Webber's 25 points and 13 rebounds. Howard had a near triple double: 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. And Rod Strickland had 10 points and 10 assists.
But it was Murray who provided the highlight, leaping high to catch a lob pass thrown from half-court by Strickland, and slamming the ball down with two hands.
"I didn't know he had it in him," Webber said, shaking his head.
Said Murray: "It was thrown up there, and I had to go get it. Ben [Wallace] let me use some of his hops for a minute."
The Bullets are playing their best basketball of the season, with the entire roster playing well over the nine games. However, with the exception of Cleveland, none of those games has been against top-notch competition. What happens over the next seven days (Atlanta, New York, two against Charlotte) might demonstrate how far this team has come.
"We are not content," Webber said. "We think, basically, we have to look at this as from this day forward."
Pub Date: 12/28/96