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Quality victories continue to elude Bullets Team is not satisfied just to play top teams tough, Howard declares


LOS ANGELES -- In a two-point loss on Friday night, the Washington Bullets earned the respect of the Seattle SuperSonics. A month ago, there was the respect of the Chicago Bulls in a one-point loss. It was the same thing back in November, as the Bullets earned the respect of the Houston Rockets in a four-point loss.

Notice a pattern?

Through the first three months of the season, the Bullets have yet to demonstrate the ability to record a quality win. Against the eight teams that are currently ranked either first or second in their divisions, the Bullets have an 0-11 record, including Friday's 97-95 loss to the Sonics. Only the Golden State Warriors also have failed to notch a win this season against such opponents.

The close calls have led to an increased level of frustration for the Bullets, who get another shot tonight against the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again: We are not satisfied with playing these teams tight," forward Juwan Howard said after Friday's loss. "We have no reason to be proud of ourselves because we had a one-point loss.

"We're disappointed. Those games that we lost are games that we should have won."

Friday's game was certainly winnable, although the Bullets had to fight back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to give themselves a chance to win in the final minutes. A chance to take a lead in the fourth was thwarted when Howard was called for a debatable charging call against Detlef Schrempf.

Washington also had a late chance to tie the game, but a jump hook by Chris Webber -- taken a couple of steps inside the foul line -- was short.

After the game, the Sonics mostly talked about the physical style of ball that the Bullets brought to Key Arena.

"I think it was one of those games where the team that was left standing was going to win," Sonics forward Terry Cummings said.

Down the hall, the Bullets spoke mostly about the calls that they didn't get -- a trend that they labeled too common this season.

"I don't think we get the respect like other teams do," Howard said. "Sometimes I think they [the officials] don't expect us to beat teams like a Seattle, Houston, Chicago or Miami. We don't get the breaks. It's always a controversial call."

And yet, Howard can consider himself extremely fortunate that he was even around for the end of Friday's game. In the third quarter he was hit with a technical after getting in the face of

official Jim Clark.

After the technical, Howard got in Clark's face again -- and a second technical, meaning ejection, seemed imminent.

But Bullets coach Jim Lynam instead received two technicals, and was ejected for the first time this season.

If the Bullets can demonstrate the ability to put teams away -- even some of the top teams -- perhaps they won't have to worry about officials in the latter part of a close game.

With Friday's loss, the Bullets are 1-6 in games decided by three points or fewer.

"We, as a team, need to figure out what is the problem and why we can't win these close games," Howard said. "And we have to find a way to correct them."

Maybe then the Bullets can beat some of the top teams.

"It's frustrating, losing," Howard said. "But we have to earn the respect. No one's going to just give it to us."

Can't beat the best

How the Bullets have fared against teams that are currently either first or second in their division:

Date .... Opponent .... Result

1/31 .... Seattle ..... L, 97-95

1/20 .... New York .... L, 95-79

1/17 .... Miami ....... L, 103-92

1/14 .... Chicago ..... L, 108-107

1/13 .... Miami ....... L, 98-95

1/2 ..... New York .... L, 92-80

12/10 ... New York .... L, 85-73

11/30 ... Houston ..... L, 103-99

11/20 ... Seattle ..... L, 115-110*

11/15 ... Detroit ..... L, 95-84

11/12 ... Detroit ..... L, 92-79

* -- overtime

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers

Site: Great Western Forum, Inglewood, Calif.

Time: 9: 30 TV/Radio: Ch. 50/WWRC 980 AM

Outlook: This is Washington's first meeting this season against the new-look Lakers. Led by All-Star C Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers have won five straight and 14 of their past 17 in their best start since the 1990-91 season. The Lakers have won 12 straight at home, the third-longest current home streak, behind Atlanta and New York. They have been off since Wednesday night, when the beat the San Antonio Spurs, 99-92. All-Star G-F Eddie Jones is averaging 16.5 points and G Nick Van Exel 14.5. Washington's two-game winning streak ended in Seattle on Friday night. The Bullets have lost four straight at the Forum.

! Pub Date: 2/02/97

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