INDIANAPOLIS -- While watching the Indiana Pacers operate yesterday, Washington forward Chris Webber saw a team that has benefited from years of playing together, a team that has survived some mediocre times to get to the brink of the NBA elite.
"I've been saying all along that it's a lot more than what you've got, it's how long you've had them," Webber said. "We just ran into a good, solid veteran team."
A team that kept the Bullets pretty much in check all afternoon, enduring one Washington run after another before the Pacers came away with a 106-96 win before a sellout crowd of 16,718 at Market Square Arena. It was the sixth win in seven games and the ninth in the last 11 for the Pacers, who are one of the hottest teams in basketball.
Indiana won by holding the Bullets to 42.7 percent shooting from the field. And still the Bullets four times fought back from double-digit deficits, coming from 12 down early in the fourth quarter and coming within 101-96 after a dunk by Juwan Howard with two minutes left.
But a chance to get closer was thwarted when an inbounds pass from Rasheed Wallace was picked off by Derrick McKey, who streaked down the court for a layup and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play. Indiana's lead was 104-96 with 43 seconds left, and the Bullets were done for the afternoon.
"It was 50-50," said Wallace, on whether he was to blame for the pass or whether McKey made a good play. "He gambled, and he came up with it."
McKey scored 15 points for the Pacers, one of five players scoring in double figures. Rik Smits led the Pacers in scoring for the fourth straight game with 24, and Reggie Miller had 23.
Webber was one assist shy of a triple double for the Bullets, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Howard had 19 points and nine rebounds and Gheorghe Muresan added 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks.
Most times, a front-line performance such as that will win games. But Mark Price still shows signs of adjusting after missing the first part of the season, and he and younger brother Brent had just three assists between them in a combined 48 minutes at the point.
In a game where the Bullets had Mark Price, Webber and Howard in the lineup together for the first time (Howard was suspended for Friday's win over New Jersey), the team was hurt by a first quarter in which it allowed the Pacers to shoot 72.2 percent from the field. Smits had 16 points in the quarter, and the Pacers led by as many as 10 points before a later
Washington rally had the Bullets within 34-29 going into the second quarter.
"On a night where you're not as quick and as sharp, we hung," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "Give our guys credit. We were crawling uphill all night, and then they made a big defensive play."
Wallace was trying to get the ball to Mark Price. But in Mark Price's 21 minutes of play, he had been trying unsuccessfully to find Wallace on penetration moves to the basket.
"When I penetrate, I like to see guys coming to the basket, and I think guys right now are just standing around," Mark Price said. "Guys can get a lot of easy baskets if they just react to the ball.
"I'm not here to put a finger on Rasheed. He's a young player who should be a junior in college. I want people to react to the ball. I'll have to talk to him, and get it in his mind to get ready for the ball. But it's not all him. I'm not used to playing with these guys either."
Which is all part of the chemistry problem for the Bullets, who not only have to get adjusted to Mark Price, but also to Webber and whoever fills in at shooting guard for reinjured Calbert Cheaney. With all that going on, the Bullets were lucky to be able to fight back against a solid team such as Indiana.
"We'd make a run, they'd make another run and we just couldn't get over the hump," Howard said. "We played hard, but we just couldn't catch any breaks. You have to really commend all our guys for fighting back the way we did tonight."
NOTES: Mark Price hit just three of nine shots and had zero assists, but Lynam said it was one of his better games. . . . The 10-day contract for Michael Curry expired after yesterday's game. The Bullets may re-sign Bob McCann (10-day contract expired on Saturday) and could make a decision on Curry before Wednesday's game in Charlotte.