LANDOVER -- After a week of struggling and two losses in three games, the Washington Bullets were delivered two gifts last night: the New Jersey Nets as an opponent, and a surprising outcome in Boston.
The game against the Nets was easy, as the Bullets led by as many as 35 points on the way to a 109-90 win at USAir Arena. The later gift was waiting in the locker room, when the Bullets found out the Boston Celtics had beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After going into the game tied with Cleveland for the eighth spot in the NBA Eastern Conference standings, the Bullets were able to take a full game lead with five games to play. The Bullets (40-37) also took a three-game lead over the 10th-place Indiana Pacers, who lost to Atlanta last night.
"It was very fortunate that Cleveland lost to Boston," guard Calbert Cheaney said. "But we can't relax. We can't concern ourselves with Cleveland. We have to worry about ourselves."
If only the rest of the season could be so easy for the Bullets, who did pretty much as they pleased against a New Jersey team that has lost six of its past seven games.
Six Washington players, led by Juwan Howard's 21, scored in double figures, Chris Webber and Tracy Murray had 19 points each and Rod Strickland provided game highlights, scoring one unbelievable shot after another on the way to a 16-point game. He also had 15 assists.
"Strickland did whatever he wanted to do on whomever we put on him," said New Jersey coach John Calipari. "He had a choice to make 30 points or 15 assists, and he elected for the 15 assists. He played the point guard position the way it should be played. He was the key to the game."
It didn't help the Nets that point guard Sam Cassell was out, after injuring his hamstring in Thursday's win over Milwaukee. Cassell, a Baltimore native and product of Dunbar High, watched the game in street clothes.
Washington coach Bernie Bickerstaff is hoping last night's win helps gets his team untracked, after the Bullets lost two of three games after a victory over the Chicago Bulls on April 3.
"One thing about the NBA, it's very humbling," Bickerstaff said. "As soon as you think you're going toward the top of the mountain, somebody is there to slap you down. And that's good."
Opponent: Charlotte Hornets
Site: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum
Time: 7: 30
Radio: WWRC (980 AM)
Outlook: After taking a one-game lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, the Bullets look to continue against the Hornets. Charlotte recorded its 51st win last night against Detroit, setting the franchise mark for most wins in a season. F Glen Rice (27.0 ppg) has been one of the top players in the league all season. F Anthony Mason 16.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg) returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing seven games with a foot injury. The Bullets have won just one of three games against Charlotte this season, with the victory coming on the road.
Pub Date: 4/12/97