Webber Returns; Bullets Can't Come Back
By Richard Justice
Chris Webber's return became a clinic of perfectly executed offensive plays and smart defense. It was a night when one team dismantled the other, forcing turnovers one minute and hitting open jumpers the next.
Unfortunately for Webber and the Washington Bullets, it was the Cleveland Cavaliers who played smarter and more efficiently on their way to a 97-85 victory in front of 11,226 at USAir Arena.
Webber began the game by taking a lob pass from Juwan Howard and completing his first dunk of the season, which was pretty much the end of the highlights for the Bullets (5-8), who lost their third straight game and were outhustled and outsmarted by the undermanned Cavaliers (6-8).
Webber's left shoulder held up nicely, and so did Webber, finishing with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 40 minutes. He was the bright spot as the best shooting team in the league had a second straight bad night, shooting just 42 percent and turning over the ball 22 times.
"They came out and controlled the pace," Webber said. "They played a lot of good defenses, and you have to give them credit for that. We're going to come back and make the adjustments. We're a lot better than last year and we're going to prove it. We've got more heart. We're just better."
The Cavaliers aren't supposed to be winning these games, not after beginning what could be a long rebuilding process after trading Mark Price and Hot Rod Williams during training camp. But for one night, they were very good as point guard Terrell Brandon dominated the Bullets, scoring 29 points, registering a career-high 15 assists and getting six steals.
The Bullets had a built-in excuse: Webber's return, which might have rattled a team that had played the opening 12 games of the season with essentially the same group. But the Bullets had played about the same way Tuesday in New Jersey.
"I'd be copping out if I said that was a big part of it," Bullets Coach Jim Lynam said. "We were just careless with the ball and we weren't effective against their double team. It was too many turnovers, plain and simple."
Cleveland doesn't have many weapons, but Coach Mike Fratello has done a terrific job of taking advantage of what they do have. Fratello constantly ran Brandon off screens or allowed him to penetrate the lane and find open jumpers.
Brandon was the biggest reason that forward Danny Ferry had one of the best nights of his NBA career, tying his career-high with 24 points. Together, Brandon and Ferry combined for 53 of Cleveland's 97 points, and that was enough for the Bullets, who started slowly and never caught up.
Cleveland confused the Bullets on the offensive end, running quick and aggressive double-teams against the inside players, and betting the Bullets couldn't win the game from the perimeter. They didn't with point guard Robert Pack going 2 for 8, Juwan Howard 7 for 16, Calbert Cheaney 7 for 15, Mitchell Butler 1 for 4 and Tim Legler 1 for 3.
Pack had a tough night, both in trying to stop Brandon and in turning over the ball six times.
"I think I was trying too hard to get Chris involved that I forced things," Pack said. "It just took me out of my game. I shouldn't have put that on myself. I wasn't doing the right thing. It wasn't a good performance by me. I'll go back to practice and try to do better next time."
He had a bad start, scoring four points and turning it over four times in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Ferry kept running off screens and getting open, finishing the first quarter with 14 points. Brandon started a terrific game with seven points and six assists.
Cheaney (16 points, six rebounds) led a 14-2 Bullets run in the second quarter and Washington led briefly, 39-38. But Pack turned the ball over in the final moments of the first half, and then missed an ill-advised three-pointer as the Bullets went to halftime trailing, 46-43.
They twice tied it in the third quarter, but never got anything going. Their last chance came with six minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading, 83-79. Needing a defensive stop, Dan Majerle slid off a screen and nailed a long three-pointer. The Bullets missed a pair of shots in their next possession, and Michael Cage scored on a fast break to seal it.
Still, Webber was encouraged and also emotional when he heard his teammates chanting, "Win one for the captain" before the game.
"I love this team," Webber said. "I love the guys on this team. For them to do that is great. It was just a night when the shots wouldn't go down and Cleveland hit everything. It was incredible how many they hit. We're going to be better. This is just one game."
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company