Defensive stand fails to propel Bullets, 94-90

January 05, 1995|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the Washington Bullets, most of the numbers were clearly in their favor.

Three being the number of points Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller scored in the second half.

Nine being the amount of points they held the Pacers to in the fourth quarter, when Indiana shot just 15.4 percent from the field.

But the Pacers had the edge in the only numbers that counted, coming away with a 94-90 win before 15,975 at Market Square Arena.

And so the horrendous stretch of basketball continued for the Bullets, losers now of five straight and 13 of 14 games. Their overall record is 7-21 as they slowly inch closer to the Los Angeles Clippers (4-25) for the worst record in the league.

"We played hard and had a good stretch of defense," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said of the comeback. "We held them to nine points, that's better than I thought."

It's the fewest points the Bullets have allowed in a quarter this season, one point better than the 10-point fourth quarter that Cleveland had against Washington last week. Each time the Bullets held the opposition to just two field goals in the final period -- and each time the Bullets lost.

"We stepped it up defensively, but we can't always wait until the fourth quarter to do that," said forward Anthony Tucker. "It's real frustrating. It's mental lapses. If we can get rid of that, we won't have to fight back every fourth quarter."

This game wasn't close until the end. Indiana led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, and had a seemingly comfortable 85-68 lead going into the fourth. That 68 points represented just two more than the Bullets had scored in the first half in Tuesday's loss to Seattle.

But the Bullets fought back. It wasn't pretty, with Washington shooting just 37.5 percent over the final 12 minutes. But after trailing by as many as 10 with 3:52 left, a 7-0 run starting with a three-pointer by Scott Skiles and ending with a driving layup by Calbert Cheaney had Washington within 93-90 with 2:03 left.

There were chances for Washington to get closer. After Skiles stripped Mark Jackson, Mitchell Butler's layup attempt at the other end was partially blocked by Pacers center Rik Smits. Another defensive stop resulted in a missed jumper by Skiles. And after Smits missed two free throws, Gheorghe Muresan was wide-open for a short baseline jumper -- and missed.

That was it. McKey hit one of two free throws with 16.4 seconds left for a 94-90 Indiana lead, and the Bullets simply ran out of chances.

On the missed jumper by Skiles, it looked like the Bullets point guard was bumped in the lane. But there was no call.

"It's hard for me to understand -- I can play 35 to 36 minutes the way I play, and get to the free-throw line only twice," said Skiles, who was 2-for-2 from the line.

But this game didn't come down to missed calls in the lane -- it came down to two stretches of play that put the Bullets in a big hole.

The first stretch came at the start of the second quarter, when a 22-4 run by the Pacers turned a two-point Washington lead into a 16-point deficit. But even though Miller had scorched Washington defenders for 17 first-half points, the Bullets were within a respectable 62-53 at halftime.

But a 16-2 run midway through the third quarter by the Pacers proved too big a hole for the Bullets to overcome.

For the Bullets, Juwan Howard had another double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Skiles and Cheaney, both playing in their native Indiana, had 17 and 12 points, respectively.

The Bullets only got nine minutes from Kevin Duckworth, who again came off the bench behind Muresan. Duckworth, who has a sore Achilles' heel, spent most of the final three quarters with his left shoe off.

Rex Chapman, who has missed 13 of Washington's past 14 games, worked out on the court before the game. "It was a step forward," said Lynam, who's hoping to have Chapman back next week.

The Bullets flew to Atlanta after the game, where they'll be in the national spotlight tomorrow night when Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens will make yet another attempt to win his NBA-record 938th game. The Bullets hope the comeback last night will help tomorrow.

"It built some confidence, but it's frustrating that we lost," Howard said. "The guys on our team want to win as much as anyone. We're going to get better."

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