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Bullets Show Off Fab Two : Pro basketball: Webber, Howard fill the house for debuts, but Celtics win.

November 20, 1994|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANDOVER, Md. — The sellout crowd rose as one as Chris Webber stepped out of the darkness and into the spotlight before Saturday night's game against the Boston Celtics at the US Air Arena.

The Washington Bullets' long-suffering fans, who have been through seven consecutive losing seasons, hope that Webber, the first player picked in the 1993 NBA draft, and former Michigan teammate Juwan Howard, the Bullets' No. 1 draft pick last June, will lead them out of the darkness.

But rejuvenating the Bullets, who haven't won an NBA title since 1978, isn't going to be as easy for the Fab Two as leading the Wolverines to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA championship game.

The Webber-Howard era opened with a 103-102 last-second loss to the Celtics before 18,756.

The Bullets led, 102-101, after forward Calbert Cheaney made a jumper from just outside the foul line with 3.1 seconds left, but Bullet guard Rex Chapman was called for a blocking foul on Derek Strong on the inbounds play and Strong made two free throws with 1.6 seconds left. Cheaney missed a desperation shot as time expired

Playing in his first game since Thursday's blockbuster trade in which the Bullets sent Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks to the Golden State Warriors, Webber appeared rusty.

Webber, who hadn't played since April and didn't receive the Bullets' playbook until after the game, had nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes as a reserve.

On Thursday, Howard ended a contract dispute by signing a reported $41.6-million, 13-year contract with a clause that allows him to become a free agent after two years. He had the first shot of his NBA career blocked by Celtic forward Dino Radja.

"I can see my friends back home laughing at me when they show it on ESPN tonight," Howard said. "They won't remember the 11 rebounds. Welcome to the NBA."

Howard had 10 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes, making four of 10 shots.

"I adjusted quicker than I thought I would," Howard said. "But some of the plays we ran I was familiar with because we ran a few of them at Michigan.

"I never thought I'd play with Chris after we left Michigan, but it's great to have the opportunity to play with Chris once again because we shared so many great things at Michigan."

Webber and Howard impressed Dominique Wilkins of the Celtics.

'I love both of those guys' games," the all-star forward said. "They've got heart, and I love to play against guys who've got heart."

Bullet fans have high expectations because the Bullets have added Webber and Howard to a core group of former UCLA star Don MacLean, voted the league's most improved player last season, Chapman and point guard Scott Skiles, acquired from the Orlando Magic in the off-season.

"I'm not really worried about the pressure," Webber said. "I think we're all on a ride to see how much we can do. I believe we're going to win every game we play. I never go on the court thinking I'm going to lose, I don't care if we're playing the Dream Team.

"Yes, you should be patient with us, but we're going to try to win every game, if we weren't trying then we don't need to get paid for what we are doing.

"I just like this team. It's not fake. I'd be quiet before I'd lie to you. This is not the first place you think when you think basketball, but neither was Chicago before (Michael) Jordan was there, and neither was Detroit before Isiah (Thomas) came.

"I'm not saying I'm that caliber of a player, but I'm saying I have the heart to be and I want to win as much as they do and hopefully we'll turn it around."

Webber says he feels comfortable as a Bullet.

"I feel I was made out to be the bad guy (with the Warriors), but God doesn't let us labor in vain," Webber said. "I love playing basketball and if people think that (he's greedy), I can't sit here and try to be nice and try to make everybody like me. I've just got to be myself and let people here judge for themselves."

Webber, who has worn No. 4 throughout his career, wore No. 2 because Skiles has his old number. Webber has suggested that they shoot three-pointers for the number.

"Me and Scott are going to have to talk about it," Webber said. "This is fine with me. I'd like to leave the past in the past. No. 2 is for the future."

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