It's true that the Washington Bullets entered last night with wins in seven of their previous nine games. It's also true that the Bullets, during that span, hadn't exactly played some of the toughest teams in the NBA.
So the Bullets figured to have a true test last night, playing an Atlanta Hawks team that had won 11 of its last 15 games -- including a win Thursday over the Chicago Bulls. And the Bullets showed that they might be for real, coming away with a 97-86 win before a crowd of 11,797 at the Baltimore Arena.
The win was the third straight for the Bullets (15-13), who climbed two games over .500 for the first time this season. More importantly, the Bullets, who were led by Juwan Howard's 25 points, won their fourth straight at home, and for the first time appear to be on the verge of using the home court to their !B advantage.
In getting revenge for a 110-81 trouncing in Atlanta on Nov. 29,the Bullets did something that few teams dare do -- attack Dikembe Mutombo. The result: Gheorghe Muresan recorded season highs in points (18) and rebounds (12). Howard had 13 rebounds to go with his team-high point total. Chris Webber had a near triple double (20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) and Rod Strickland finished with 16 points and nine assists.
This was a game that was won by Washington's defense as the Hawks shot 42.7 percent for the game (after 50.0 percent in the first half). Mookie Blaylock (27 points) and Christian Laettner (25 points) led the Hawks, but the two combined to score just 17 points in the second half.
After beating the Toronto Raptors on Friday, several of the Bullets spoke of getting revenge against the Hawks, who dealt the Bullets the first loss in what would be a five-game losing streak. In that game, the Bullets were pretty much out of the game at halftime. And although the Bullets didn't shoot that well (43.5 percent) in the first half last night, they still were within 50-47 against one of the hottest teams in basketball.
The Hawks were pretty much a two-man show in the first half. Laettner, who had a career-high 37 points in Thursday's win over Chicago, had 18 points and seven rebounds by the intermission last night. And Blaylock had 17 points, hitting seven of his 10 shots.
Washington survived a slow start, hitting just one of its first five shots. When Blaylock hit the first of his two first-half three-pointers with 9: 05 left, the Hawks had a 10-2 lead.
The Bullets, in the midst of their best stretch this season, recovered by hitting five of their next six shots. And when Webber tipped in a Howard miss with 6: 34 left, the Bullets were within 13-12.
Washington would tie the game at 19 on a dunk by Webber with just over two minutes left. Atlanta, after starting the game hitting seven of its first nine shots, cooled off considerably as the visitors made just two of their final 10 in the quarter.
By the end of the quarter the Bullets had nine points from Howard, eight points from Webber and a 25-24 lead.
The Hawks opened the second quarter with a 10-4 run and, after a layup by Laettner with 9: 02 left, Atlanta had a 34-29 lead. Laettner had a big second quarter, when he scored 12 of his 18 first-half points.
Washington would rally to tie the game at 36 after Howard (13 points, nine rebounds in the first half) converted a three-point play. But it was Atlanta that would take a 50-47 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Strickland, outplayed by Blaylock in the first half, stepped up his play and got the Bullets back into the game. During the first 6: 03 of the third quarter, Strickland scored six points, and assisted on three baskets. It was a short jumper by Strickland with 5: 57 left that gave the Bullets a 64-59 lead.
Atlanta scored the next six points, taking a 65-64 lead on two free throws by Blaylock with 4: 36 left. But the Hawks, over the final five minutes, scored just one field goal. And Mutombo was not a factor, scoring just two points and grabbing two rebounds in the third.
Washington, behind its defense, ended the quarter with a 15-4 run and took a 79-70 lead into the final quarter.
Pub Date: 12/29/96