Lakers' win breaks slump, Bullets' spirits, 122-107 L.A. hands Washington 10th loss in past 13 games


LANDOVER -- To a man, the members of the Washington Bullets say there's still enough time to make a postseason push. But it was difficult to find any encouraging signs after last night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers limped into USAir Arena losers in four of their previous five games. Shaquille O'Neal and Robert Horry were sidelined with injuries.

Still, behind the play of Elden Campbell and Nick Van Exel, the Lakers made it look easy down the stretch in a 122-107 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

This was a golden opportunity for the Bullets to gain ground -- or at least keep pace -- in the Eastern Conference standings. Instead, the Bullets lost for the 10th time in their past 13 games and remained winless (0-18) against teams that are currently in first or second place in their respective divisions.

Even payback for getting drilled by 30 points by the Lakers in Los Angeles earlier in the month wasn't motivation enough for the Bullets, who scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter.

"When it got to the fourth quarter, we were putrid, in terms of execution," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.

Putrid was not a word to describe Campbell and Van Exel.

Campbell, who scored a career-high 40 points in a double-overtime loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday, had 38 last night.

And Van Exel scored 31 points, including 18 in a near-perfect first quarter in which his only miss came on a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer.

"I knew coming into the game that I needed a big night," Van Exel said. "I knew I had to pick up the team and make my shots, because they haven't been falling lately."

Last night they fell in every way possible. From three-point range (4-for-8), on layups and on open jumpers after herky-jerky moves. Van Exel had half of the Lakers' first-quarter points, and his scoring overshadowed a good offensive game by Bullets point guard Rod Strickland (8-for-13 shooting, 23 points, eight assists).

"He hit some tough shots, some leaners, and it was a tough night," Strickland said. "Nick is really streaky, and if he gets going like that, he's tough to guard."

Said Bickerstaff of the Lakers' point guard: "I think Van Exel probably mesmerized us early. He was bringing it from everywhere."

Behind Van Exel's early hot hand, the Lakers led by as many as 11 points in the opening quarter. But the Bullets fought back in the third quarter, when they led by as many as three points.

But Campbell picked up the slack in the second half, scoring 10 points in each of the third and fourth quarters. He made eight of 11 shots in the second half.

"That's not a slouch team there," Strickland said. "I know they're missing two key guys, but they have some players."

And the Bullets have some problems. There have just 26 games left and are 5 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference.

"It's discouraging, any loss is discouraging," said dejected forward Chris Webber (24 points), who combined with Juwan Howard (26) to score 50 of the Bullets' points.

"Hopefully we're still bullheaded enough to keep believing in ourselves."

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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