WASHINGTON -- On one side of the room, Washington Wizards forward Juwan Howard sat in silence, letting the biting words sink in. Those same words were relayed to Terry Davis on the other side of the room, whose eyes lit up in amazement.
On the night when the Wizards' toughness was questioned by Bernie Bickerstaff after a 96-80 loss to the Miami Heat, the players responded sharply to their coach. And the response was not to the way the team failed in the second half, but to the way Bickerstaff ripped into them to reporters after the game in describing how he was "disappointed how we responded."
"We had guys going to the basket and they were getting tattooed," Bickerstaff said. "On the other end, we were not protecting our team. I do not like the fact when Rod Strickland went to the basket, he found himself on the floor.
"We've played Miami before and we stood up," Bickerstaff added. "We did not do it tonight."
When Davis was told what Bickerstaff said, the center responded angrily. "I don't agree with that," said Davis, who played 13 physical minutes against Alonzo Mourning. "I don't know what he's talking about. He can't be talking about me.
"I protect my teammates," Davis added. "And I fight for them every minute I'm on the court."
Minutes later, Howard also was told about Bickerstaff's remarks.
"We can't start pointing fingers when we lose, that's unfair," Howard said. "And that refers to anyone, it refers to Bernie, it refers to me, and refers to any other players on the team."
And then Howard tossed a little dagger of his own at his coaches' game plan.
"If we would have double-teamed Zo [Mourning] at the beginning of the game, I think we would have had a better chance of winning the game," Howard said of the Heat center, who scored a game-high 29 points. "Like I said, I'm not the coach."
No, life does not appear to be too pleasant in the land of the Wizards, who had their three-game winning streak broken and fell to below .500 (4-5).
Washington led 47-42 at halftime and appeared primed to end Miami's five-game winning streak. But the Heat played a nearly mistake-free second half when the team committed just three turnovers. Miami guard Tim Hardaway provided the spark in the third quarter when he scored 15 of his 20 points, or just one fewer point than the Wizards scored as a team in the third.
"They got the rebounds and the loose balls and we were flat," said Strickland, who missed 10 of 13 shots while scoring 10 points. "They outplayed us, period."
And the numbers reflect that. Mourning attempted 18 free throws -- three more than the Washington team. And Terry Porter provided a lift off the bench for Miami, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes.
For the Wizards, Howard scored eight points -- failing to hit double figures for the first time this season. Strickland, one of the best rebounding point guards in the league, averaging 6.3 going into last night, went without a board. The Wizards shot just 40.5 percent from the field.
The players would have liked to have moved on, chalking up the game as a bad night. But Bickerstaff's criticism wouldn't let them.
"That's Bernie talking," Davis said. "And I don't have a damn thing to do with it."
Pub Date: 2/24/99