Webber Injured in Bullets' Win
By Richard Justice
The Washington Bullets gave Ledell Eackles a chance because he can provide instant, unstoppable and often spectacular offense. He can score against anyone in the league, getting into the lane with arms and legs flying, a whirling offensive machine. And as Chris Webber once more injured his left shoulder, the Bullets can thank Eackles, Juwan Howard and Robert Pack for helping them pull out a 127-120 overtime victory over the New York Knicks last night in front of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
In his second start since replacing injured guard Calbert Cheaney, Eackles lit up the Knicks for 24 points in 38 minutes. He hit 9 of 13 shots and also grabbed a couple of key rebounds in overtime.
Eackles was a hero for the Bullets (14-13) on a strange and sobering evening. First, they let a 16-point fourth quarter lead slip away. Then with 3 minutes 12 seconds left in overtime, Webber tumbled to the floor and re-injured his left shoulder. Doctors say he suffered a strain -- not a complete dislocation -- and should be sidelined anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, which is a more positive prognosis than players and coaches originally feared.
"I'm happy for the guys," Bullets Coach Jim Lynam said. "They showed character to come back with Chris out. Give our guys credit for coming back. I'm really happy for Ledell. He worked so hard. He was in the gym twice a day for a couple of weeks with no promise from us that we'd sign him. He's a big-time offensive player and showed it tonight."
Webber was helped off the court with the Knicks leading 114-112. As he left, teammate Juwan Howard whispered: "Just go in there and go to sleep and we'll wake you when we get in." Howard also promised a victory, and he set about delivering by demanding the ball against Charles Oakley in the low post. He scored on both possessions, and the Bullets never trailed again.
"Any guy on this team would have done the same thing," Howard said. "We weren't going to lose it after Chris went out. We had to win it. That's what this game is all about."
Howard finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds in 45 minutes. Pack was also very good in scoring 25. He scored all of Washington's points in the final 38.5 seconds, going 9 for 10 from the foul line to hold off the Knicks.
It was a tainted victory for the Bullets, but it was going to be somewhat tainted anyway because the Knicks (19-9) were playing without center Patrick Ewing, who has a sprained right ankle.
Still, they ended a streak of 15 straight losses to New York, winning for the first time since Nov. 13, 1992. The Bullets didn't get their 14th victory last season until March 1, when they were 14-41. They have also assured themselves of their first winning December since 1985. They are 9-5 entering tonight's game in Milwaukee. Last season, they were 3-12 in December.
The Knicks almost won it without Ewing. Forward Anthony Mason scored 30, guard Derek Harper 21 and forward Charles Oakley 20. They roared back into the game by shooting 75 percent in the fourth quarter, but the Bullets held their composure, going 17 for 19 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and overtime period. They also outrebounded the Knicks 6-0 in overtime.
"You couldn't ask for more in terms of effort from our guys," Knicks Coach Don Nelson said. "It was great. A lot of guys stepped up and tried to make up for Patrick's absence."
Webber departed with the Knicks, who never led in regulation, leading 114-112. Howard jogged to the sideline and asked Lynam to call his number against Oakley.
He got the ball and quickly scored. After John Starks was whistled for walking, Howard again got the ball low against Oakley and scored for a 116-114 lead with 1:36 left.
Mason quickly tied it, but the Bullets went to the foul line 12 times in the final 1:05 and sank 11 shots. Gheorghe Muresan made the first two for a 118-116 lead. Mason missed, Eackles grabbed the rebound and Pack made the first two of his nine foul shots with 38.5 seconds left.
A month ago, the Bullets had missed five foul shots in the final minute to let a victory against the Knicks get away. This time, they didn't.
It had been Eackles at the beginning, jump starting the Bullets with 10 first-quarter points. He led them again in the third with 10 more as they seemingly took control of the game before the Knicks made their fourth-quarter run. He hadn't been impressive in his first start, going 2 for 6 in 21 minutes against Golden State.
"Coach told me I had to keep playing my game," Eackles said. "I passed up too many shots the other night. He told me if there's a shot there, take it. I just feel great about being part of a big win like this. It feels great. This team is young, but we showed a lot of character."
Bullets Notes: As if point guard Mark Price didn't have enough of a challenge in simply attempting to come back after serious foot surgery, he's doing it at the time of the year when teams typically cut back their practice schedule because of the number of games.
What's training camp for Price is the grind-it-out portion of the season for everyone else.
Price on Thursday returned to the court for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left foot on Nov. 10. But he essentially worked alone because the Bullets, having played the night before and facing back-to-back games against New York last night and in Milwaukee tonight, did only some light drills.
Price worked on his own again yesterday and will for the remainder of the weekend. The Bullets won't have a full-speed practice until Monday, and Price hopes to take part in some of that.
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