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Wizards silence Celtics, 86-75; Howard quiets Walker to avenge '98 breakout as winning streak reaches 3


WASHINGTON -- Juwan Howard would have preferred to forget the 49 points that Antoine Walker dropped in during a Boston Celtics loss to the Washington Wizards at the MCI Center a year ago. And maybe Howard might have forgotten, had he and Walker not shared the same hometown of Chicago.

"Some of his friends and [Antoine] made me remember it when I went back home in the summertime," Howard said. "I hear the talk. I've got pride, just as much as he does."

So yesterday, Howard went on the defensive, shadowing Walker's every move. And by the time Howard was finished, Walker had missed 10 of 12 shots and was held to eight points in Washington's 86-75 victory.

The win was the third straight for the Wizards, improving the team's record to 4-4. Are the Wizards, in reaching the .500 mark, improved from the team that started the season 1-4? Definitely.

Rod Strickland had a near triple double -- 20 points, nine rebounds, nine assists -- and Mitch Richmond scored 25 points, as the guard tandem grows more and more cohesive.

Improvement aside, Washington's streak is likely linked more to a schedule that served up Toronto, Chicago and Boston in succession. While the Celtics will typically give opponents fits with their nonstop defensive pressure, playing the last game of a six-game road trip that had the team in Portland on Friday night and in Washington yesterday contributed to the team's lackluster performance.

"They've been out on the road and both teams worked hard considering the circumstances," said Wizards coach Bernie Bickerstaff, referring also to his team's playing four games in five days. "And that's probably what you're going to see [around the league]. A lot of hard work, and not as much result."

The numbers support Bickerstaff's point: Washington won despite shooting 39.2 percent from the field, while the Celtics -- with Kenny Anderson and Ron Mercer coming off the bench for the first time this season -- shot 32.5 percent and came within a point of tying the all-time scoring low for a Washington opponent.

Washington really won the game late in the second quarter, when Boston went without a field goal over the final 5: 39. That stretch helped turn a five-point second-quarter Celtics lead into a 45-35 deficit.

The Celtics never got closer than five points in the second half, and their frustration began to show. Walker struggled much of the game, either forcing up bad shots or missing the few easy opportunities he had.

Frustrated at one point about not getting the ball, Walker got into a shouting match with Anderson, the veteran point guard. "It was just frustration," Walker said of the third-quarter outburst.

Added coach Rick Pitino: "There won't be a problem, because it will never happen again. It is something that should never happen on the court."

That also describes Howard's feeling about Walker's scoring outburst last season.

"Of course, I had the flu, but I didn't mention anything about it," Howard said of Walker's 49-point night. "That night he had the hot hand. [Now] it's a different year and a different story."

NOTES: In addition to his defense, Howard had 16 points and eight rebounds. Strickland did not start the second half after getting sick at halftime, a problem that has bothered him in the past. He still finished with 38 minutes. Tracy Murray remains one three-pointer away from tying Washington's all-time record (276, held by Michael Adams). Murray missed all six of his shots, including three three-pointers, yesterday. Rookie Paul Pierce, who sat most of the first half after picking up two fouls, led the Celtics with 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Pub Date: 2/22/99

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