Hornets pin Bullets with 6th loss in row Second-half rally falls short, 126-117

December 20, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Two copycat "Grandmommas" -- a tribute to gifted Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson's popular sneaker commercial -- circulated the stands last night, trying unsuccessfully to get on the Capital Centre court.

But Johnson's basketball stand-in hardly was needed.

Johnson joined imposing rookie center Alonzo Mourning and sixth man Del Curry to combine for 75 points as the Hornets fought off a furious second-half rally to hand the Washington Bullets their sixth straight defeat, 126-117.

Harvey Grant, who sat out Thursday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls, bounced back to score a career-high 41 points for Washington (7-16), hitting 16 of 23 shots.

But the rest of the Bullets starters shot 14-for-46 and everyone struggled to score after Washington reduced a 93-79 deficit to 109-108 with a little less than five minutes left.

The Hornets (12-11) played an inside-outside game, using the power of Mourning and Johnson down low, the feathery shooting touch of Curry and the deft passing of former Dunbar High star Muggsy Bogues (season-high 17 assists), to hold off the Bullets in the closing minutes.

Washington had a final chance when Tom Gugliotta made a jump shot with 72 seconds left to make it 114-110, but the Bullets came no closer as the Hornets made six of eight free throws in crunch time.

It was an impressive homecoming for Mourning, the former Georgetown All-American who had a strong contingent of fans among the crowd of 15,912.

"I've got a lot of great memories from this building, where I also had a lot of success," said Mourning, the second player chosen in the NBA draft. "I felt like I was in a real comfort zone."

The Bullets had great difficulty matching up inside with Mourning, who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds.

Struggling Pervis Ellison played a little more than a half, and Wes Unseld also tried Gugliotta and Charles Jones on Mourning, with only slightly more success.

"Alonzo was tremendous tonight," said Charlotte coach Allan zTC Bristow. "He went after everything. Whether it's a big hoop, free throws, rebound or blocked shot, he always seemed to come up with the big play when we needed it. He's made this team 10 percent better than last year."

If Mourning wasn't doing the damage, it was Johnson (26 points, 13 rebounds), last season's NBA Rookie of the Year, who tormented them with soft outside shots and explosive drives to the hoop.

The Johnson-Mourning tandem pretty much did what it wanted to do while building a 66-52 halftime lead. It persuaded Wes Unseld to bench Ellison and shooting guard Rex Chapman, who was scoreless in 12 minutes.

"We didn't play smart or like we really wanted to win," said Gugliotta, who scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but forced a number of shots and was only 6-for-22.

"We've got to be fired up when we go against a beatable team like the Hornets. We're just playing too soft."

Unseld didn't disagree with Gugliotta.

"We just couldn't stop them," he said. "We didn't compete defensively in the first half. We only had three or four guys do a good job for us, but for us to win, we need everybody."

The Hornets were cruising with a 93-79 lead in the second half when Michael Adams ignited a Bullets rally, slicing the margin to 95-90 after three quarters.

The Bullets would come as close as 109-108 on rookie guard Doug Overton's three-point play with just under five minutes remaining. But in the next minute, the Hornets padded their lead to 118-110 to clinch the victory.

Grant was almost the entire Bullets offense in the first half, scoring 26 points while hitting 10 of 13 shots. As a team, however, Washington was only 18-for-44 (40 percent).

Charlotte's offense was balanced, led by Mourning with 14 points and Johnson with 12. Bogues dished out 10 assists.

In addition to Mourning, the Hornets' starting lineup had other local ties, as former Dunbar teammates Bogues and David Wingate opened in the backcourt.

Wingate was playing in place of injured Kendall Gill (ankle) at shooting guard. Also, ex-Bullet Tom Hammonds started at small forward for Johnny Newman, who's on the injured list with a fractured wrist.

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