VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Going into the fourth quarter and trading baskets with one of the worst teams in the NBA is not what the Washington Bullets had in mind last night.
But that's exactly what happened against the Vancouver
Grizzlies, who overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to beat the Bullets, 91-87, and record only their sixth win of the season.
A crowd of 15,751 at General Motors Palace watched the Bullets blow yet another big lead, a common occurrence during their Western trip.
So instead of going over the .500 mark for the first time in almost a month, instead of recording the team's best start after 25 games since the 1985-86 season, the Bullets fell to 12-13 and lost for the first time to the Grizzlies.
Playing north of the border has not been a pleasant experience for the Bullets. Earlier this month, Washington blew a 17-point lead and lost to the Toronto Raptors.
So instead of shooting for a 5-1 finish to their West Coast trip, the Bullets can wind up going 3-3 should they lose tonight at Portland. Two days ago, Harvey Grant said the Bullets needed to acquire a killer instinct. Last night, that shortcoming hurt the Bullets.
"We were up by, what, 13 points? If you want to be a good team, you have to put them away," Grant said. "We just didn't do it. We let that team hang around, get their confidence up. And then you're in for a dogfight."
Once the Grizzlies managed to keep the game close, they hit some clutch shots in the fourth quarter, when the team shot 52.9 percent from the field. The biggest shot of the night came with 5: 20 left, when Anthony Peeler, who scored a season-high 27 points, threw up a shot with the 24-second clock winding down. The shot hit the glass and fell into the basket.
Suddenly the Grizzlies, who trailed by eight entering the fourth -- quarter, had an 80-77 lead.
"When Peeler made that lucky one off the board, that truly put the momentum in their favor," Bullets forward Juwan Howard said. "No one expected that to go in. When they start hitting shots like that, it puts in their mind it's their night."
Other big shots would follow. After the Bullets had pulled to within 87-85, Vancouver rookie Shareef Abdur-Rahim (24 points) hit a tough baseline jumper -- with a hand in his face -- with 21 seconds left that put the game away.
"It's a game we should have won," said Rod Strickland, who led the Bullets with 23 points. "They just got hot and made some tough shots."
And the Bullets had a hard time making any shots. On a road trip where the Bullets have had little trouble scoring -- Washington had scored at least 100 points in three of the first four games -- the Bullets managed just 35 points in the second half. Chris Webber was having his way in the first half last night, when he scored 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field, but he had FTC just three field goals (six points) in the second half.
The Bullets also were out-rebounded, 48-37, and got little help from a bench that scored just 15 points. The loss of Calbert Cheaney (left hip flexor) showed last night.
Webber said the Bullets are a bit weary of being on the road. But he did not use that as an excuse.
"Oh yeah, it gets tough. You want to sleep in your own bed," said Webber, who had his seventh straight double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his 20 points. "But for 48 minutes, that wasn't the reason."
The reason was an inability to put an inferior team away. And the frustration of losing to the Grizzlies showed in the closing minutes when the Vancouver mascot -- a grizzly bear -- motioned if he were going to throw a ball at Strickland during a stoppage in play.
Strickland, not at all amused, walked menacingly toward the mascot. The mascot retreated.
"I wasn't in the mood. That wasn't time to be playing," Strickland said. "I wanted to smack him."
Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Site: Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
Radio: WWRC (980 AM)
Outlook: This is the final game of six in the Bullets' West Coast trip. The Blazers (14-13) are coming off Saturday's 101-99 overtime loss at Sacramento. F Rasheed Wallace, Washington's first-round pick in 1995, scored a career-high 38 points against the Kings and is averaging 15.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg. G Kenny Anderson (18.4 ppg, 6.4 apg) suffered a bruised right knee Friday, but played Saturday. For the Bullets, G Calbert Cheaney (left hip pointer) is questionable. The Bullets swept their series against Portland last season.
Pub Date: 12/23/96