Bullets escape with win over lowly 76ers, 107-105 Legler's game-winner keeps playoff hopes alive

March 31, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- He's the second-best three-point shooter in the league and, during All-Star Weekend, he was the winner of the three-point shootout. So when Washington Bullets guard Tim Legler got the ball in the final seconds of a tie game against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the logical thinking was he would take a long jumper.

But Legler had another option in mind, and his drive and high-arcing layup with four seconds left gave the Bullets a much-needed 107-105 victory over the Sixers before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

Though the Bullets were able to sneak away with the victory and get coach Jim Lynam his 300th career win, they were unable to gain ground on the Eastern Conference's eighth playoff spot, as the Miami Heat beat the Detroit Pistons last night. The Bullets remain 4 1/2 games behind the Heat.

Legler was the primary scoring option on Washington's final possession because Juwan Howard, who matched a career high with 32 points, had fouled out with 34 seconds left. Legler said he initially was thinking jumper when he got the ball, with the second option of dumping it in the post to Gheorghe Muresan.

"I noticed Sean Higgins [who was defending Legler] was slightly off-balance, and I know they don't have any shot-blockers," Legler said. "I knew I could get to the lane and get off a good shot."

Still, the Sixers, who had a five-point lead with just under four minutes left, had four seconds for a final play. Instead of going for the tie, guard Vernon Maxwell (23 points, eight assists, six rebounds) went for the win. But his three-point attempt hit the rim, and the Bullets had the victory.

Beating the Sixers, who have the second-worst record in the league and just five road wins, is not a surprise.

What was a surprise was the difficulty the Bullets had, allowing the fourth-worst shooting team in the league to shoot 51.9 percent.

But Lynam said it wasn't a case of the Bullets taking the Sixers lightly.

"I heard our guys before the game and we were as ready to play as we have been all year," Lynam said. "What chances we still have [at the playoffs] would certainly be based on winning this game."

Howard had nine rebounds and a career-high nine assists for the Bullets, Muresan had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Ledell Eackles had 13 points.

Legler was Washington's top scorer off the bench with 12 points -- eight in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer with 2: 29 left tied the game at 101. Legler hit all three of his fourth-quarter shots, including two three-pointers. But the game-winning layup is nothing new -- Legler has been driving to the basket more recently.

"The only transformation has been my mind-set," Legler said. "I've always been able to take the ball to the basket. But with this team, my main goal was to spread the defense."

But that's hard to do when you've earned a reputation as a three-point specialist. Which is why Lynam has been encouraging Legler to drive more.

"This league has come to the realization he's a big-time shooter," Lynam said. "They tend to stay with him more on plays where he had open jumpers early in the season. He made a good read and a great shot."

And it was much needed. The Bullets were coming off an emotionally draining loss to the Heat on Friday. While the win doesn't get Washington any closer, it keeps the team in the hunt.

"It's a win that we had to have, that's the bottom line," Legler said. "We were really disappointed about our effort [Friday]. We stepped it up and made a lot of big shots."

NOTES: Washington ended March with a 9-7 record, the team's second-best month of the season. . . . The Bullets announced an increase in ticket prices for next season. Seats that are $37 this season will increase to $50; $33 seats will increase to $40; $25 seats will be $30; $18 seats go to $22; and $11 seats will be $12.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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