Webber's Triple-Double Wasted
By Richard Justice
INGLEWOOD, CALIF., March 24 The Washington Bullets finally got something out of this trip. No, not a victory. The Los Angeles Lakers broke open a close game in the fourth quarter and won 113-103, in front of 14,144 at the Great Western Forum.
The Bullets were left with the consolation prize and it was special -- Chris Webber's first triple-double and the Bullets' first in more than two years. Playing well again despite the absence of his Michigan running mate Juwan Howard, who is injured, Webber lit up the Lakers for 31 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
He's the first Bullet to record a triple double since December 5, 1992, when Tom Gugliotta, the man Webber was traded for, had 19 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against Indiana.
Otherwise, it was more of the same. The Bullets dropped to 18-49 and the Lakers, who won 33 times last season, continued a remarkable turnaround by running their record to 41-25 and heading back to the playoffs for the 19th time in 20 years.
They did it with 25 points and 20 rebounds from center Vlade Divac, and a big performance from guards Anthony Peeler and Nick Van Exel. They harassed the Bullets on both ends of the floor. Van Exel scored 20 and Peeler 19.
The Bullets made them earn it, leading by as much as eight in the first half and by 88-87 as the fourth quarter opened. But the Lakers put it away with a 14-5 run to open the fourth quarter and withstood a couple of late Bullets rallies.
Calbert Cheaney had another big game for Washington with 25 points, but no one else was even close. Rex Chapman had a 4 for 18 night and scored 13 points, and Don MacLean was 1 for 6 with four points.
The Bullets showed no immediate carry over after letting a 14-point fourth quarter lead slip away in Seattle a night earlier. They built up a 24-16 lead with 3:55 left in the first quarter and were in front, 34-27, at the end of the first quarter.
Peeler and Van Exel had 27 of the Lakers' 59 first half points. Peeler led the way with 14, but Van Exel had five rebounds to go with 13 points. Peeler had four steals in the first half.
After a basket by Washington center Gheorghe Muresan, Peeler slipped loose and hit a deep fadeaway from the corner, and that shot seemed to get the Lakers going. Over the final 8 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, they outscored the Bullets 28-14 and stretched their lead to 59-50, when Van Exel scored on a fast break with 16.5 seconds remaining. Webber's three-pointer with two seconds left got the Bullets within 59-53 at halftime.
The Lakers did it with a trapping defense that took the Bullets out of sync and took the ball out of their guards' hands several times. Bullets Coach Jim Lynam switched from Doug Overton to Chapman to Mitchell Butler in a search for someone to handle the ball against the quickness of Peeler and Van Exel, and he may be looking until the free agent marketplace opens up this summer.
Washington scored the first 11 points of the second half to get the lead back. They made their first five shots, with Webber again leading the way.
Muresan scored on a feed from Webber. Overton nailed a three-pointer. Webber scored on a fast break, then looped into the lane, took a fed from MacLean and scored. After another Lakers miss, Cheaney hit a short jumper to make it 64-59 with 9:43 remaining.
The Lakers woke up at that point. They moved Divac away from the basket, put the ball in his hands and took advantage of the quickness mismatch with Muresan. He beat him down the court for a basket. He then drew Muresan's fourth foul with 8:37 remaining on a drive to the basket.
It stayed close the remainder of the quarter. The Lakers built up a five-point lead at one point, but the Bullets bounced back to lead by three, 90-87, at the end of three quarters. They were down 85-80 when Divac scored the last of his 13 points in the quarter.
The Bullets then went on an 8-0 run and led 90-87 at the end of three quarters. Sedale Threatt promptly tied it with a three-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and the Lakers eventually opened up a four-point lead, 94-90.
Chapman hit a foul shot and Webber scored with an offensive rebound to get the Bullets within 94-93 with 9:08 remaining. Muresan was then whistled for his fifth foul, and when he went back to the bench, the Lakers took charge.
Peeler scored on a drive, then stole the ball from Webber and flipped to Cedric Ceballos for a fast break to make it 98-93 with 7:56 remaining. The Bullets didn't get within five the rest of the way.
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