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  •   Webber Steals the Show From Lakers

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 16, 1995; Page C01

    Chris Webber's highlight package would not begin with the thunderous slam dunk that Juwan Howard set up with a toss off the backboard, and it would not begin with the 360-degree fast-break monster jam that helped launch the Washington Bullets toward their biggest victory of the young season, 122-114 over the Los Angeles Lakers last night. In fact, it might not include any of his career-high 37 points.

    Just as the Lakers got off the canvas and back in the game, having trimmed a nine-point lead to six in the final 70 seconds, they got the perfect matchup at the top of the key: Nick Van Exel, one of the NBA's quickest point guards, vs. Webber, a 6-foot-10 power forward.

    And that's where Webber's highlights will begin, with Webber, isolated against Van Exel, slapping the ball away, picking it up and driving the length of the court for a dunk that sealed a stirring victory at USAir Arena.

    "It was a monster play and a fitting finale to his game," Bullets Coach Jim Lynam said. "It was a great game. It was one of those games where two teams kept firing haymakers at each other."

    Webber knew how to punctuate it. When the game ended, with his teammates celebrating and 18,756 cheering, Webber stepped to mid-court and bowed to the fans, his fans, his crowd.

    He isn't the only reason the Bullets have a three-game winning streak. He isn't the only reason they have won three in a row for the first time in 150 games. And he isn't the only reason that their 10-10 record puts them at .500 at the latest point in a season since 1989.

    But he was the biggest reason. His 15 fourth-quarter points sparked the Bullets on a night when they took on a solid playoff team and won. They got 26 points from Howard and a terrific game from point guard Robert Pack, who held his own against Van Exel in registering 21 points, 10 assists and turning it over just once in 39 minutes.

    "I'm so proud of this team," Webber said. "It's been a long year already with the injuries and all. This feels great. Last year, everyone felt the pain of losing, but it was especially hard for Chris and Juwan. We weren't used to it."

    This was one of the first true tests of these young Bullets, whether they could get into a West Coast running game and hang on. They did, thanks mainly to a pair of powerful runs in the first and fourth quarters, and they won despite 25 points from Van Exel points and 33 points from Lakers forward Cedric Ceballos.

    The Bullets also pushed their home record to 8-4, which is important because they take a 2-6 road mark on a five-game, seven-day trip that begins Sunday evening in Portland, Ore.

    It was also their fifth victory in their past seven games, and in a season when they already have let some fourth-quarter leads slip away, they took a fourth-quarter lead from the Lakers (12-11).

    "We couldn't survive our dry spells," Lakers Coach Del Harris said. "The second quarter really hurt us. We were so careless with the basketball. We just don't play a very smart basketball game in the fourth quarter. We haven't been a smart team this year."

    When forward Corie Blount stole the ball from Brent Price and scored with 10:40 left, the Lakers had a 91-83 lead.

    That's when Lynam sent both Pack and Webber back into the game several minutes earlier than he preferred. The move worked immediately as the Bullets went on an 18-2 run with Webber scoring nine of the 18 points and Pack keeping the tempo high. He also twice hustled into the lane and grabbed his own missed shots and scored.

    "He did what he had to do for his team," Pack said of Van Exel. "I did enough to help my team get a win."

    Lynam said: "Pack had a terrific game. He had 10 assists and one turnover, and to do that against that kind of pressure is great. We scored 122 points and had 14 turnovers. When you do that, you've got to give your point guard credit. You also have to give Chris and Juwan credit for that."

    The Bullets eventually stretched it to 108-97 when Pack grabbed his own missed shot and scored for a second time with 3:55 left.

    Ceballos and Van Exel sparked a final run for the Lakers, and with Van Exel at the top of the key against Webber, they were just where they wanted to be -- until Webber made his steal. His previous career high was 36 points against the Kings last January.

    "I just wanted to get a steal," Webber said. "He's out there dribbling and hopping and it's scary. You know one of those hops is going to be the extension of a move. I have long arms and sometimes I'm able to reach in there and get it."

    © Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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