Aching Bullets end on familiar note Wolves win finale at buzzer, 89-87


LANDOVER -- The Bullets' final game, at the Capital Centre yesterday, was a microcosm of the season, as Washington, reduced to six healthy bodies, lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 89-87, on Tony Campbell's jump shot at the buzzer.

"It figured that it had to end this way," said captain Darrell Walker, who was ejected in the opening minute of the fourth quarter for cursing referee Pete Quinn.

"In the last seconds, the game is tied, the ball is rolling loose on the floor, Campbell wins the scramble and puts it in with .6 of a second on the clock. Yeah, it seems I've seen this happen more than a few times this year."

The Bullets, who missed the playoffs a third straight season, concluded their work for the year with a 30-52 record, one victory less than they had last season. It marked the team's worst record since finishing 20-61 in the 1966-67 season as the Baltimore Bullets -- two years before rookie Wes Unseld led them 57 victories and the Atlantic Division title.

Unseld has endured two straight injury-marred seasons as coach of the Bullets, making the playoffs neither one. Washington won only nine games after going into the All-Star break 21-27 in early February.

"This season was really frustrating," Unseld said. "Starting out without John Williams and Ledell Eackles, there was a possibility things could be tough for us.

"But toward the end of January, we put some wins together. We were not only surprising a lot of people, but also ourselves," he said. "Then we suffered a rash of injuries and things fell apart."

They finished their final game with as many of their players in dress suits as in uniform.

Washington began the game without projected starters Bernard King (back), Pervis Ellison (finger) and Williams (flu), in addition to reserves Charles Jones (groin), Mark Alarie (knee) and Byron Irvin (ankle).

Eackles joined them on the sidelines after a half-court collision with Minnesota guard Scott Brooks. Although Brooks is smaller, it was Eackles, who reported to the team a month late and out of shape after a contract dispute, who limped off the floor with a pulled muscle behind his right knee.

When Walker got ejected, Unseld was left with only one player in uniform on the bench. Guard Larry Robinson, re-signed only Thursday, was forced to play 23 minutes and showed fatigue. For most of the last half, forward Tom Hammonds (21 points, nine rebounds) became the center by default.

Even with this patchwork lineup, the Bullets took a 36-18 lead in the first quarter, making 17 of 21 field-goal attempts. But in the last three quarters they managed only 51 points.

Bullets rookie guard A.J. English (16 points) tied the game with a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining.

The Bullets appeared to have a chance to end the season with a victory after Timberwolves forward Tyrone Corbin missed a jump shot in the closing seconds. But Campbell won the scramble for the loose ball and shot it just as the buzzer sounded.

"We'll take wins any way we can get," Brooks said. "I don't care if the Bullets had five or even four guys out there."

But this dramatic victory was not expected to save Bill Musselman's coaching job. Musselman is under attack in Minnesota from players and management and is expected to be the first postseason casualty, although the expansion Wolves (29-53) won seven more games than they did last season.

"Whatever will be, will be," Musselman said when asked whether this was his last game. "We did everything management wanted us to do. First, they wanted us to play hard every game, and we did. Second, they wanted us to show progress each year, and we accomplished that, too. We did what was asked, as far as I'm concerned."

The Wolves will join the Bullets in the NBA lottery, May 19. Washington can get no worse than the eighth pick.

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