Bullets tease fans before losing, 99-96

January 11, 1995|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Atlanta Hawks' Mookie Blaylock entered last night's game against the Washington Bullets second in the league in steals, yet when the announcer yelled "two minutes" to the crowd, the guard with the fastest hands in the league had no steals to his name.

No problem. Blaylock was simply saving his best for last.

He recorded three steals over the game's final 1:44 -- victimizing Calbert Cheaney twice -- to help the Hawks steal a win from the Bullets, 99-96, before 12,345 at USAir Arena.

The Bullets haven't been close in too many games of late, so this one was heartbreaking. Washington lost its ninth straight and its 17th in the past 18 to fall even deeper into the basement of the Atlantic Division with a 7-25 record.

Again, it was a case of wasted effort. All five Bullets starters scored in double figures, with Cheaney's 25 points leading the way. For the second night in a row Gheorghe Muresan matched his season high with 19 points, to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds.

But there was little from the Bullets' thin bench, with Atlanta's reserves outscoring Washington's, 44-13. And with the Bullets turning the ball over late and missing key free throws in the fourth quarter, it added up to another defeat.

"It's like somebody's dying," Rex Chapman said of the team's woes. "You just deal with it and go on."

Perhaps the Bullets could go on more easily if they could only get a win, and that was well within reach in the fourth quarter with Washington leading 88-87 after Chapman's two free throws with 2:48 left.

Blaylock then was fouled by Chapman, and he made one of two free-throw attempts at the two-minute mark to tie the game at 88.

Blaylock then stole an entry pass intended for Juwan Howard, and Craig Ehlo scored on a layup for a 90-88 Atlanta lead. Then Blaylock stripped the ball from Cheaney in the backcourt and scored on a layup for a 92-88 lead.

Washington later got as close as 94-93 after a layup by Chapman with 35 seconds left. But Ehlo (21 points off the bench) responded with a three-pointer for a 97-93 lead with 14.9 seconds left, and Blaylock then picked off Cheaney's pass intended for Skiles, and that was the game.

"He's second in the league in steals. He did it by instinct," Cheaney said of Blaylock's thefts. "I've never been through anything like this [losing streak] in my life. It's numbing."

The Bullets did a good job of protecting the ball in the first half, when they committed two turnovers. For the game, Washington committed 13 turnovers and forced 20, but Atlanta -- particularly Blaylock -- forced the turnovers at critical points.

"Mookie's an outstanding defensive player," Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens said. "Late in the game, I thought we played the passing lanes a whole lot better."

The efforts of Ehlo and Steve Smith, each who scored 21 points off the bench, shouldn't be discounted. Twelve of Ehlo's points came in the fourth quarter, when he hit five of six shots, including both of his three-pointers.

"When you make the outside shot, it opens up a lot for the inside players," Ehlo said.

After taking a 57-51 lead into the half, the Bullets made just three of 15 shots in the third quarter, going one stretch of 8:02 without a field goal.

But the Bullets came back and had a one-point lead on several occasions in the fourth quarter.

Coach Jim Lynam has complained recently that not getting to the free-throw line has cost his team of late. In the fourth quarter, Washington went to the line 12 times but hit just six shots.

Cheaney had four free-throw attempts in the final 3:20, missing two. Skiles had two free throws with 5:22 left, and missed both. Those two are the top free-throw shooters on the team (Skiles was at 93.9 percent before the game and Cheaney was at 88.1).

"I've been making free throws my entire life," Skiles said. "You miss them, there's no particular reason for that."

To a man, the Bullets could not find any positives in the game.

"If you're 15-15 and lose a game, you can say, 'We did this well, and that well,' " Skiles said. "When you lose so much, it's tough to turn around and say we did something well. The bottom line is to win a game."

And with the injuries that have hit the team, that's not guaranteed.

"You play well and then you get some bad turnovers down the stretch and it's killing us," Howard said. "We were close. now we have to go and try to find a way to win."

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