PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sure, the Washington Bullets were a hurting team when they limped into Memorial Coliseum for their 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 last four home games, the Blazers lost to Golden State, squeezed by San Antonio, needed overtime to beat Milwaukee and lost to Chicago.
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 two points, 85-83, on two Harvey Grant free throws with 2:13 left.
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 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."
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 had a 47-46 lead at the half, and it could have been worse -- for Portland. If the Bullets are banged up, the Blazers are a little passive these days.
Thus, Washington found the pickings surprisingly easy around the basket, had a few perimeter shots go in for them, and led by as many as nine.
The Bullets' fun started in the last three minutes of the second quarter, when they broke away from a 20-20 tie with a 10-3 run. Coppin State's Stewart -- who had 13 in the first quarter alone -- hit a basket and a pair of free throws on the run; English capped it off with a pair of jumpers and the Bullets led 30-23 at the end of the period.
English's basket to open the second quarter made it 32-23, and Washington stayed anywhere from five to eight points up for most of the rest of the quarter.
Portland's bench got the Blazers their only lead of the second quarter with an eight-point run that made it 40-39, but the Bullets came right back with eight straight of their own to lead 47-40 with 2:44 remaining in the half.
Six straight points by Portland -- whose starters were back in by then -- accounted for the halftime score. The Bullets hit 45.2 percent of their field goals (19-42) to 39.2 (20-51) for Portland. Ellison had 11 points, five rebounds and five nice blocked shots in the first 24 minutes.
English scored 10 off the bench. Stewart didn't score in the second quarter and still led the team at the break.
Ellison's rebounding helped give Washington a 26-23 edge over the Blazers on the boards. He finished with 11 rebounds.
A 15-point third quarter should have been disastrous for the Bullets, but Portland scored only 18 in the same period, and the decision was still in doubt.
Portland's biggest lead was 77-68 with eight minutes left.
The Bullets get a day off to travel, then tip it off with the Seattle SuperSonics tomorrow night.