LANDOVER -- Washington Bullets forward Chris Webber says he doesn't follow the NBA's Eastern Conference standings closely.
"I don't know the standings. I don't know if we're two or three games behind," Webber said. "Me knowing is not going to matter. Us winning is what's going to matter."
And that is the problem: The Bullets are not winning. They lost another game that was within their grasp yesterday, limiting Grant Hill to 13 points only to come away with an 85-79 loss to the Detroit Pistons at USAir Arena.
The loss dropped the Bullets to 24-30 and was their second in a row, not surprising considering the opponents were the Chicago Bulls and the Pistons, two of the league's best teams.
The Bullets have lost nine of their past 11 games and are 0-17 against teams that are in first or second place in their divisions (the Golden State Warriors are the only other team in the league winless against such teams). With 28 games to go, the Bullets are 11th in the Eastern Conference and four games behind the Orlando Magic, who hold down the eighth and final playoff spot.
"It's been a sense of urgency," said Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who is 2-5 since taking over from Jim Lynam. "We're not running from that. The greatest thing that happened was that Chris got back."
Webber, the team's top scorer, returned after missing five games with a strained back, and Bickerstaff warned the team not to ease up. Webber and Rod Strickland led the Bullets with 19 points apiece, and Webber grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds.
But the standing around that Bickerstaff warned about was evident again, although the Bullets rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter to pull to within a point with less than five minutes left.
"Guys tend to stand aroundand put added pressure on a guy," Bullets forward Juwan Howard said. "You just have to do what you've been doing, with or without him."
Howard probably would like to soon forget yesterday's game. He scored nine points, ending a 35-game streak in which he had scored in double figures. He missed 10 of 14 shots and grabbed just two rebounds in 45 minutes.
"I point the finger at myself," said Howard, who did have six assists. "I felt like I let my teammates down."
Perhaps Howard's biggest miss came with just under five minutes left in the game. After Strickland had scored eight straight points to get the Bullets within 73-72, Howard found himself on a fast break with a chance for the lead and only the 6-foot-5 Aaron McKie to beat.
Instead of a power move, the 6-9 Howard tried to sidestep McKie. His finesse layup attempt didn't even draw iron, leading to a Detroit fast break. Hill was fouled on the other end, made both free throws and the Detroit lead was 75-72.
If not for Strickland, the Bullets would not have been in the game. Just as on Friday night, when he had a 23-point, nine-assist game against the Bulls, Strickland attacked in scoring 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. He scored four straight baskets against Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter in getting the Bullets within one point.
"I don't know if it was taking over," Strickland said. "They just started calling my number a couple of times."
But after that jumper that got the Bullets to within 73-72 with 4: 53 left, Washington didn't score another field goal until Strickland scored on a layup with 26 seconds left. By that time, the game was over.
"During that stretch we were missing shots, I think we had a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves," Bickerstaff said. "And during that stretch Detroit was coming right back, taking us down and going one-on-one to get some quick baskets."
When the Bullets lost to the Pistons last Wednesday, Hill dominated with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Yesterday, he had just five points over the final three quarters and finished with 13. But by attracting double-teams late in the game, Hill did a good job setting up teammates.
"He made some big plays, and he got some other guys involved," Bickerstaff said. "Someone said Hill didn't have a good game, but that's because of the high standards he has set. He had a pretty game to me."
Webber said the Bullets shouldn't be alarmed by the losses to Chicago and Detroit. Now it's time to see where the Bullets stand, starting with the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night. Contenders or pretenders? The answer should be known by the end of the week.
"I don't know if you can call these two losses a slide," Webber said. "If we give the effort we gave against Chicago, and what we did [yesterday], we will be good."
Pub Date: 2/24/97