Bullets' rally is furious but short, 92-89 Score 7 in 26 seconds but Clippers prevail

March 09, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Long known as the "Paper Clips" because they often provided as much resistance as a sheet of paper, the Los Angeles Clippers already have made life miserable for two opponents in their five-game Eastern swing.

On Tuesday, the Clippers beat the New York Knicks in a game that had a lot to do with coach Don Nelson's firing yesterday. Last night, the Clippers did little to assist the Washington Bullets' playoff drive, with Los Angeles leaving the USAir Arena with a 92-89 win.

The Bullets saw an end to a three-game winning streak and failed to gain ground on the Charlotte Hornets, who lost last night. The Bullets (27-34) remain two games behind the Hornets (29-31), who hold the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington also lost a game to the Miami Heat (29-32), the ninth-place team who won last night.

"It's a game that we needed big time," a dejected Jim Lynam said.

And it's a game the Bullets nearly stole, even after trailing 89-82 after Loy Vaught (22 points) hit two free throws with 1: 56 left.

But in 26 seconds the Bullets scored seven straight points, eventually tying the game at 89 on two free throws by Calbert Cheaney (20 points) with 29 seconds left.

On the very next possession Vaught grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a layup with 16 seconds left for a 91-89 Los Angeles lead. With a chance to tie, Cheaney got into the lane for a wide-open 15-footer, but his shot was long and Vaught grabbed the rebound.

When Vaught hit one of two free throws with five seconds left, putting the Clippers' lead at 92-89 and giving Washington one last chance to tie. But Cheaney's three-point attempt before the buzzer didn't even catch the rim. Cheaney thought he was fouled, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.

"I got hit on the wrist -- that's what made the shot go to the right and hit the backboard," Cheaney said. "They came ready to play and, for whatever reason, we took them too lightly."

And that is totally surprising since the Bullets, in their position, can ill afford to take anyone lightly. But after Wednesday's big win over Seattle -- who had won 14 straight -- in which the Bullets held the best team in the West to just 29.8 percent shooting, Washington was unable to equal that effort last night.

The Bullets shot just 41.7 percent and turned the ball over 18 times. Eight of those turnovers came in the third quarter, when the Bullets went a stretch of over seven minutes without a field goal. A five-point Washington lead early in the quarter turned into a 68-67 deficit going into the final period.

"Turnovers really hurt us in the second half," Lynam said. "Each ++ time we started a run it seemed like a turnover stopped our momentum."

And losing two starters to foul trouble in the fourth quarter didn't help matters. Gheorghe Muresan picked up his sixth foul with 7: 05 left, and was limited to just 26 minutes (13 points, six rebounds). Rasheed Wallace (12 points, seven rebounds) fouled out with 2: 44 left.

It was the fourth win in six games for the Clippers (21-39), who ended a four-game losing streak to the Bullets.

Instead of keeping pace with the two teams just ahead of them in the standings, the Bullets -- who got just nine points from its bench -- are almost in a must-win situation at home against Atlanta tomorrow.

That game begins a six-game stretch, five against winning teams (Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, San Antonio and Utah).

"This hurts big-time, we just dug ourselves a hole that we were never able to get out of," Bullets guard Tim Legler. "We're going to learn a lot about the character on this team on Sunday. Because now that's a big game."

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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