LANDOVER -- If there ever was a telling game about the Washington Bullets, this was it. Coming off of huge win, they were host last night to a Los Angeles Lakers team that had been struggling without the injured Shaquille O'Neal and Robert Horry.
After a 30-point loss to the Lakers on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles -- the Bullets' worst defeat of the season -- payback was in order.
But the Bullets cannot win big games, even ones presented on a platter. The Lakers, behind the two-man show of Elden Campbell (38 points) and Nick Van Exel (31 points, 12 assists), came away with a 122-107 victory before a sellout crowd at USAir Arena.
If the Bullets miss the playoffs, this will be a game they will look back on as having severely damaged their postseason chances. Washington (25-31) has lost 10 of its past 13 games and is 0-18 against teams that are in first or second place in their divisions.
The Lakers were primed to be taken. They had dropped two straight and four of their previous five. On top of the Pacific Division for much of the season, Los Angeles had fallen to second place behind the Seattle SuperSonics.
But Campbell, filling in nicely for O'Neal, and Van Exel pretty much had their way, leaving the Bullets with a lot of long faces for much of the fourth quarter.
Juwan Howard led the Bullets with 26 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Webber scored 24 and Rod Strickland 23.
The Bullets had few answers early to stop Van Exel (24 first-half points, 18 in the first quarter), but came from 11 points down to tie the game at the half at 64.
Not having to face O'Neal, the Bullets shot 58 percent in the half, led by Strickland's 16 points and 14 each from Webber and Howard.
Van Exel opened the Lakers' scoring with a three-pointer in the opening minute. He hit seven of eight shots in the quarter (three of four from three-point range), his only miss coming on a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer.
An 11-2 run midway the through the first resulted in the Lakers' biggest lead, 26-15, coming after a layup by Jerome Kersey with 4: 42 left.
The Bullets were hurt by their five turnovers in the first quarter, which led to eight Lakers points. Still Washington, with Tracy Murray scoring seven points over the final 2: 02, got within 36-30.
In the second quarter, the Bullets were hurt when Gheorghe Muresan picked up his third foul with 8: 47 left, sending him to the bench. But less than a minute later, the Bullets cut the deficit to 42-41 after a short jumper by Howard with 8: 01 left.
Later, the Bullets tied the game at 56 when Webber converted a three-point play with 2: 55 left. The Bullets fell behind by as many as six, but tied the game at 64 on Jaren Jackson's driving layup with three seconds left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Bullets led by as many as three points in the opening minutes, and had a 79-77 lead with 6: 33 left after two free throws by Calbert Cheaney. But Webber was sidelined after picking up his third foul, and the Lakers took over, pushing their lead to 93-86 after a short jumper by Campbell with a little more than a minute left.
By the end of the quarter, Campbell had 28 points and Van Exel 29, and the Lakers led 97-91.
Pub Date: 2/28/97