Wizards trim T'wolves, 114-103 Webber scores 33, grabs 12 rebounds to lead way to third MCI win in row


WASHINGTON -- He had just taken an alley-oop pass from Juwan Howard and thrown down a hard, two-hand dunk, and Chris Webber was ready to celebrate. And as he skipped up court and thrust his arms in the air to get the fans involved, Webber got very little response.

So, maybe the home fans will have to grow on Webber. But the Wizards' All-Star forward is definitely enjoying the team's span of four straight games at the MCI Center, especially after last night's 114-103 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves before a sellout crowd of 20,674.

Webber had a season-high 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds -- his seventh double double of the season -- as Washington established a season-best three-game winning streak. All of those wins have come at the MCI Center, with the Wizards playing one more game here Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets before hitting the road again.

"This is the longest we've been at home the whole season, since the first day of training camp, and we're enjoying it," said Webber, who hit 11 of 19 shots from the field. "Just the fact of being home, going grocery shopping and having food at your own house. We're comfortable, and we're making a concerted effort to play better and not let the season be a waste."

After struggling the first month of the season when they played 11 of their first 15 games on the road, the Wizards have put together a balanced offensive attack that has helped over the past three games. Howard had 26 points, Tracy Murray 20 points and Rod Strickland 17 points and 10 assists -- his 10th double double of the season.

Last night's game was close for much of three quarters, with Minnesota leading by as many as nine points. But Washington ran away with a 38-point fourth quarter, eventually wearing out a tired Minnesota team that had played at home the previous night before arriving in Washington early yesterday.

"We were a little worn down," said Minnesota coach Flip Saunders. "The team didn't get in until 4: 30 a.m. I am not making excuses, but we did make some mental mistakes."

It doesn't help that the Timberwolves get little contribution from their reserves. The bulk of the scoring came from their big three: Stephon Marbury scored 27, Tom Gugliotta 24 and Kevin Garnett 21.

But Garnett grabbed just two rebounds, a far cry from the career-high 20 he pulled in a 91-88 overtime loss to Washington in Minnesota on Nov. 13.

While the Wizards haven't developed many scorers off the bench, at least Murray has been consistent. His 20 points came on 8-for-12 shooting -- including three of six from three-point range.

After the Timberwolves took an 81-79 lead on Sam Mitchell's layup with 10: 18 left, Murray hit a long, high-arcing three-pointer just before the shot clock expired for a 82-81 lead with 9: 31 left. It was a lead the Wizards would not relinquish.

"That shot really hurt us," Marbury said. "We were right there, and then he hits that three."

Murray has averaged 18.0 points in the three games at the MCI Center, and clearly likes the surroundings.

"It was dark in [USAirways Arena] and you couldn't really see the basket," Murray said. "The lighting here is great. I like this place, I can call this place home."

While the team enjoys its streak, coach Bernie Bickerstaff is not getting too excited as the Wizards (8-11) try to inch closer to .500.

"We're making strides, we're making tiny steps," Bickerstaff said. "We've been pretty consistent and we have to keep it going."

Webber agreed.

"The first 10 games you have to let everybody find themselves, everybody's not going to click at the same time at the start," he said. "Hopefully, we're all finding ourselves."

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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