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  •   Wizards Fall Short Against Pacers

    By Ric Bucher
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 28, 1998; Page C1

    INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 27 — There was no visible trace of a slap across their collective face, just as there were no words spoken about seeking revenge, but it was readily apparent that the Washington Wizards played with an extra dose of wounded pride tonight at Market Square Arena. Stoked with disappointment that none of them was picked as a reserve for the Eastern Conference all-star squad, they played the Indiana Pacers aware that defeating the best team in the East on its home floor would do all their talking for them.

    Statement made, victory denied, pride still bruised.

    The Wizards had a chance to pull off their biggest upset of the season but wound up with a 85-84 loss to the Pacers. It dropped the Wizards to 22-22 entering Wednesday's game in Boston. Point guard Rod Strickland, one of the Wizards expected to receive all-star recognition, was thrust into the hero's role but had the ball slapped out of his hands by Pacers guard Mark Jackson before getting off a shot.

    "I got hit across the arm on the last play and didn't get the call," Strickland said. "But they made the plays they needed to win. We came out determined to prove we deserved players with all-star recognition."

    Strickland's box score line was nothing special – 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting, 10 assists, 6 rebounds – but numbers couldn't describe the Wizards' performance. Strickland, along with every one of his teammates, scraped and clawed for every loose ball and every rebound and made a variety of clutch shots to erase an 11-point second-quarter Pacers' lead. The Wizards stayed within striking distance the rest of the way, going ahead by eight in the third quarter and never trailing by more than five.

    "It's a tough loss, but nine guys gave everything they had," Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "It was a hell of a game."

    But it wasn't enough to erase being overlooked by the Eastern Conference coaches, particularly for the team's likeliest all-star, forward Chris Webber. He refused to talk before the game, promising to do so afterward, but instead he spent 20 minutes being consoled by his former Michigan teammate, Pacers guard Jalen Rose, and then hurried past a clot of reporters and TV cameramen and boarded the team bus.

    Webber expressed quite a bit, however, on the floor. Once again the numbers did not capture what he did, in that he finished with fewer than 20 points for the first time in 16 games and yet this could have been his most impressive effort during that stretch. He committed seven turnovers, four of them coming on offensive fouls, but if there was a key defensive stop he made it, blocking four shots, and if there was a clutch basket or rebound needed he provided that, too, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

    "I thought they played like they play," said Bickerstaff of Strickland and Webber. "Very good."

    With the score tied at 82, Reggie Miller set a pick for Pacers point guard Mark Jackson. Cheaney, seeing Jackson get away from Strickland, slid over to cut off the point guard's path to the basket. But Strickland had fought through the pick and was still coming after Jackson, leaving Miller all alone at the top of the three-point arc. Jackson found him and the Pacers had an 85-82 lead with 46.5 seconds left.

    "Not everybody can hit a three like that under pressure," Cheaney said. "You're not supposed to leave him, but that was the first time they ran a guard-on-guard pick-and-roll the whole game and we got a little confused."

    Webber clearly had the all-star snub on his mind at the start and acted as if the 15,316 in the stands had selected the reserves. After knocking down his first shot, a three-pointer, he strutted back downcourt like a gunslinger on main street. But if that incensed the crowd, he forced a collective gasp from them a few minutes later he took a lob from Juwan Howard over Smits and not only reverse jamming it but loudly slapping the backboard on his way down.

    Webber backed up his theatrics, though, with some staunch defense, stopping Rik Smits and Dale Davis on consecutive Indiana possessions. The officials didn't show any more respect, though, than the Eastern coaches, calling him for four offensive fouls, including three in the first half that limited him to 17 minutes.

    "We just realized we were a little undermanned and we just knew we had to play hard to even have a chance," Wallace said.

    Wizards Notes: Shooting guard Ledell Eackles will not meet the team as planned in Boston for Wednesday's game against the Celtics and he could miss the team's entire three-game trip, which concludes Friday against the Detroit Pistons. The examination of Eackles' right knee, originally planned for Tuesday, has been pushed back to Thursday to allow the swelling to subside. "The doctors want him to rest it, keep compression on it," General Manager Wes Unseld said. Asked if Eackles could miss the entire trip, Unseld said, "It looks like it." . . .

    Both Eackles and Tim Legler (pulled right hamstring) will be examined on Thursday, and while Legler is expected to be out for most of the rest of the season, Unseld said Eackles' condition will determine if the team signs another player to a 10-day contract. If Eackles is ready to play when the team returns home on Saturday, Unseld said the Wizards would not sign an additional player.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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