Bullets buzzed by Hornets in opener, 126-119 Washington rally in 4th falls short

November 07, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Were he the type to sit and stew over such things, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld surely would brood over last night's 126-119 season-opening loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

Certainly other coaches have lost sleep -- even their jobs -- over games in which their teams have been in position to win in the last three minutes, only to see it slip away.

But Unseld isn't likely to do that, for a couple of important reasons.

One is that the Bullets open their home schedule tonight against the Orlando Magic, with 80 more games to follow, and if one worries too much about one game, the whole season can be lost.

Second, and probably more important, the coach said he knows he has a young, talented club that nearly overcame opening-night jitters, clock and scoreboard malfunctions and bad breaks to steal a win from a rapidly improving and possible playoff team.

Somewhere down the road, Unseld said, the Bullets will learn from this experience and get a win they weren't supposed to.

"Before this thing is over, we'll have to accept a lot of things we may not like. We were a little jittery, but we settled down. It will be all right," Unseld said.

The Bullets nearly made up an 18-point, third-quarter deficit and almost pulled out what would have been an impressive win.

With a starting lineup that has one player over 27 and a roster with one player over 30, to come close and fail on opening night isn't so bad.

"There was definitely some nervous energy out there, but we played pretty well, too. If a couple of breaks had gone our way, we would have won. We're not going to be so bad," center Pervis Ellison said.

Ultimately, though, despite impressive play of rookie Tom Gugliotta, who had 20 points and seven assists in his debut, and former Hornet Rex Chapman, who had 25 points in his first game in Charlotte since being traded late last season, the Bullets fell short because they didn't get breaks when they needed them.

The first bad break came late in the first period when Ellison, who had anchored a strong opening quarter for the Bullets, drew his third foul and had to sit out the second period.

The Hornets in general, and forward Larry Johnson in particular, took advantage of Ellison's absence, pounding the boards, drawing fouls, getting free throws and hitting outside shots.

Johnson, who had a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds, was spectacular, as the Bullets, who had no one but Ellison to check his quickness and power, were unable to stop him.

"The third foul on Pervis was a key point. That really hurt us a lot. We had to double and rotate on Larry. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes not. You've got to have the right people in the game," Unseld said.

But Unseld did have the right person in the game in Gugliotta, a 6-foot-10 North Carolina State forward who triumphed at the site of his final collegiate game.

He made nine of his 12 shots and ran the floor well, making typical rookie mistakes, but getting clutch baskets and playing intelligently as well.

"I've been playing hard, and I know that not every game is going to go like this, but I'm getting used to it," Gugliotta said.

Unseld said: "There has been no downside to Tom Gugliotta. He's got a great attitude, makes a strong effort and has some skills.

"We need to be patient and give him some time. One game doesn't make you in this league, but he'll be all right."

Gugliotta was, however, the trigger man on the decisive play. After trailing 84-66 in the third, the Bullets mustered a furious comeback and had closed the gap to 109-108 with 4:41 left.

But the Hornets held fast, and when Johnson scored a three-pointer with about three minutes to play, Charlotte led 117-110.

The Bullets had one last push, when Ellison blocked two shots in a Charlotte possession. Chapman ran down the ball on the second block and tossed ahead to Gugliotta on a three-on-one break.

Charlotte's "one" was former Dunbar star Muggsy Bogues, and as Gugliotta passed across the lane for LaBradford Smith, Bogues intercepted, threw long for Johnny Newman, who scored on the layup, and drew the sixth and final foul on Ellison, slamming the door on the Bullets.

"I wish I could have that pass back. If we could have scored there, we could have had the momentum. I never expected him [Bogues] to be there. It was just a great play on his part. But eventually we're going to win some games like that," Gugliotta said.

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