PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sure, the Washington Bullets were a hurting team when they limped into Memorial Coliseum for their NBA game with the Portland Trail Blazers last night.
Their injury list isn't any shorter than it was when they left Los Angeles, and, given the travel time, they were understandably tired.
But that probably won't stop them from kicking themselves for letting the Blazers get away from them. The Bullets, 6-10, fought and scratched for most of the 48 minutes, but a late spurt from the free-throw line gave Portland the 91-87 victory.
Only when Clyde Drexler hit a free throw for Portland's final point with 5.4 seconds left did the Bullets fade from sight. And even then, David Wingate's three-pointer with two seconds left almost went in, and he was almost fouled on the play.
Washington may not have understood how vulnerable Portland, 10-6, is in its own house these days. In their previous four home games, the Blazers lost to the Golden State Warriors, squeezed by the San Antonio Spurs, needed overtime to beat the Milwaukee Bucks and lost to the Chicago Bulls.
The Bullets actually led by as many as nine in the first half and by 47-46 at halftime. But they were betrayed by their shooting in the second half, when they hit just 15 of 44 shots.
Still, they hung in there and were within 85-83 on two free throws by Harvey Grant with 2:13 left in the game.
The contest turned on a weird play at that point. Portland's Jerome Kersey broke free on a Washington press and drove straight for the basket. Pervis Ellison -- who had seven blocked shots in the game -- decided to take the charge instead of the block.
Kersey crashed into Ellison and the floor, in that order. Referee Bob Delaney ruled that Ellison didn't get there in time, and awarded Kersey two shots and the ball on a flagrant foul.
It was supposed to be Kersey, anyhow. But he had gone off to the locker room and Bullets coach Wes Unseld had the choice of Blazers to take his place on the free-throw line. He picked little-used Mark Bryant.
Bryant managed one of two free throws, Portland got the ball, and Terry Porter was fouled by A. J. English on the possession. He hit both free throws, Portland led by 88-83 and the Bullets were all but finished with 1:23 left.
"I was just standing there," Ellison said. "He was coming in there with his knee up, and I moved my head. I was just trying to take the charge.
"Next thing I knew they called the flagrant foul. I was surprised. Most of the time they judge those by how hard they hit the floor, and I guess he hit pretty hard."
Unseld agreed. "That was a tough call," he said. "Pervis was just turning away. When somebody goes up in the air that high, there's a chance he might come down hard.
"Pervis was just trying to protect himself."
Rookie Larry Stewart led the Bullets with a career-high 19 points, while English had 18 off the bench. Drexler led Portland with 20.
"We played hard," Unseld said. "I'm pleased with the effort, but I thought we had a good chance to win. Portland got away with too many offensive rebounds and they got some loose balls."
The Bullets get a day off to travel, then tip it off with the Seattle Super Sonics tomorrow night.