TORONTO -- Just when it seemed the Washington Bullets were close to becoming a healthier team, along comes another setback. Mark Price, in just his third game back, was unable to play in the second half of last night's game against the Toronto Raptors after complaining of a sore left foot.
But it's unlikely that even a healthy Price would have been much help to the Bullets. Forced to play an unsuccessful game of catch-up, Washington fell to the Raptors, 106-100, before 25,432 at SkyDome.
The loss broke a two-game winning streak for the Bullets, who face the difficult task tomorrow of attempting to beat the best team in basketball, the Chicago Bulls (29-3), at USAir Arena. Washington, looking like a team feeling the effects of playing back-to-back games, fell to 18-17.
Price, who had played 21 and 22 minutes in his first two games, played just seven last night and scored five points. He left the game with 8:17 left in the half, and wound up spending the second half in the locker room icing his foot.
"It's a combination of three games in four nights, and back-to-back games," Bullets trainer Kevin Johnson said. "He's feeling some soreness."
The Bullets are already playing without injured starters Chris Webber, Calbert Cheaney and Robert Pack.
Toronto rookie point guard Damon Stoudamire was a sore spot the entire night for the Bullets, just as he was on Nov. 18 when his short jumper with two seconds left gave Toronto a 103-102 win and the first road victory in the history of the franchise. Stoudamire last night scored a career-high 29 points, including six in the fourth quarter when the Raptors held off a late rally by Washington.
Washington was down by as many as 15 points in the first half and trailed, 87-76, going into the final quarter. However, the Raptors, on a five-game losing streak, had led three of those games in the last three minutes.
After a jumper by Stoudamire gave the Raptors a 99-88 lead with 4:32 left, the Bullets staged their comeback. Juwan Howard (22 points) hit a jumper that started a frantic 12-5 run. A lay-up by Howard with 29 seconds left had the Bullets within 104-100.
But time would run out on the Bullets, who fell to 0-2 against the expansion Raptors this season.
As impressive as the Bullets were in limiting Sacramento Kings guard Mitch Richmond to four points in Friday night's win, the team had no answers to Stoudamire in the first half. Stoudamire, perhaps playing better than any rookie in the league this season, hit eight of his 12 field-goal attempts in the first half and scored 19 points to help the Raptors to a 60-47 halftime lead.
It was a first half in which the Bullets spent much of the time hurting themselves. Toronto scored 18 first-half points off 12 Washington turnovers. The easy transition baskets helped the Raptors to 54.8 shooting from the field in the first half.
The first half was only close for half a quarter, when the Bullets' offense boiled down to two players -- Howard and Gheorghe Muresan. Howard scored the first six points for the Bullets and Muresan the next nine, with the 7-foot-7 center's dunk with 5:18 left tying the game at 15.
Stoudamire, with a quiet two points to that point, began to make his presence felt. After Muresan tied the game, Stoudamire responded with a three-pointer and hit the first eight points during a 9-2 run that, after a free throw by Carlos Rogers, gave the Raptors a 24-17 lead.
When Stoudamire sat down for a rest at the end of the quarter, the Raptors went with a big backcourt of Alvin Robertson and Willie Anderson. Both were too big for the 6-foot Mark Price. Anderson would score the final four points of the quarter, ending an 8-0 run that gave the Raptors a 33-23 lead.
Reserve forward Tracy Murray got hot in the second quarter, at one stretch scoring eight straight for Toronto helping Toronto build its lead to 15 at 49-34.
And the Raptors were able to maintain control the rest of the half, never letting the lead fall below double digits on the way to the 60-47 halftime lead.
Price's absence left the Bullets with 10 players in the second half. Washington managed to only get as close as eight in the third quarter, that coming with 6:18 when Tim Legler hit a three-pointer from the right corner.