LANDOVER -- There were no last-second miracles for the Washington Bullets last night, as the Philadelphia 76ers overcame a four-point deficit in the final 85 seconds to gain a dramatic 107-106 victory before a Capital Centre crowd of 11,730.
The Bullets seemed to be on the verge of winning their third straight in the new season by gaining a 106-102 lead on Harvey Grant's three-point play. But 76ers center Armon Gilliam drove the lane for a jam and added a free throw with 33 seconds left.
After forward Charles Barkley (33 points, 19 rebounds) forced Ledell Eackles into a 24-second violation, Hersey Hawkins made a layup with six seconds left to provide the winning margin.
The Bullets had a last chance with 5.7 seconds remaining, but Pervis Ellison's 20-foot jumper fell off the front rim and Barkley collared the rebound to clinch the 76ers' first win in three games.
Michael Adams continued his spectacular play for the Bullets, with 33 points and 15 assists.
In losing their first two games, against Chicago and Orlando, the 76ers saw their defense exploited, particularly in the middle, where they played without their two best shot blockers, center Charles Shackleford and understudy Manute Bol.
The Magic scored 47 in the third quarter Saturday night in spoiling the 76ers' home opener, 123-115.
Shackleford, acquired as a free agent after playing in Italy last season, is nursing a sprained ankle. Bol is on the injured list after slashing his left hand on the rim in a pre-season contest.
Jim Lynam has been forced to juggle his front line, shifting Armon Gilliam from power forward to center, moving Barkley to the power spot, and making sixth man Ron Anderson his starting small forward.
Barkley, always outspoken, believes the 76ers may have erred in failing to re-sign Rick Mahorn, an intimidating forward.
"Rick obviously helped our defense, but he's not here now," Barkley told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I can't make an estimation about our defense right now, but until you do something, you don't know if you can do it."
Earlier, Barkley had expressed displeasure with the team's waiving veteran point guard Ricky Green and keeping journeyman center Dave Hoppen. Barkley contended that this was owner Harold Katz's way of keeping the 76ers from becoming all-black.
But the 76ers, wearing their garish new red uniforms, forgot past troubles in jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Adams, who averaged 31.5 points in the first two games, committed two early turnovers.
One minute later, Adams had six points on three layups as he proved too quick for rival point guard Johnny Dawkins. Both teams tried trapping on defense without success as Ron Anderson and Harvey Grant broke loose for dunks. A floater in the lane by A. J. English gave the Bullets their first lead at 18-17.
But Adams was just warming up. Four more points and a blind behind-the-back pass to English boosted the Bullets' margin to 26-19. Lynam called time, replacing Dawkins with second-year guard Brian Oliver.
Only strong offensive rebounding by Barkley kept the 76ers close. He scored four points to trim the deficit to 33-29 after one quarter. Barkley had 13 points, one more than Adams, who also had 7 assists.
A jump shot by Jayson Williams pulled the 76ers into a 33-33 tie. The Bullets' offense stalled when Andre Turner replaced Adams at the point. After four minutes, Turner was back on the bench.
Philadelphia isolated Williams in the post and he produced four points to push the visitors in front, 40-36. Ledell Eackles came off the bench to score eight points and pull the Bullets into a 46-46 tie.
Washington, however, was having just as much trouble trying to control Gilliam, who dominated the pivot. Pervis Ellison was resting with three fouls.
Ten points by Gilliam gave the 76ers a 58-52 advantage. After making a monster dunk, Bullets reserve center Greg Foster injured his back on another strong drive to the hoop. He bounced up and made one of two free throws. But Philadelphia led at halftime, 60-53.
The 76ers dominated the boards in the first half, 23-14. Barkley led the way with 10 rebounds. No one had more than two for the Bullets.
Philadelphia stretched its lead to 66-57 as Anderson and Dawkins buried jump shots. The Bullets finally got the fast break in gear. Two slams by Ellison cut the deficit to 70-66.
Just as quickly, Hawkins and Dawkins built the spread back to eight points. The lead fluctuated between four and eight while Ellison was forced to the bench with his fourth personal, 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
Adams got hot again, making an acrobatic layup and a three-pointer to produce a 78-78 tie. Barkley answered with a rebounding hoop and three-pointer of his own to put the 76ers back on top, 83-78. They ended the third quarter leading, 85-82.
Both teams struggled offensively to start the final quarter. Barkley's two free throws ended the point famine. Adams countered with a strong drive and free throw to bring the Bullets within a basket.
Hawkins sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around one by Adams before Eackles hit from the baseline. With seven minutes remaining, the 76ers led, 95-92. The Bullets tightened their defense and forced Hawkins into a 24-second violation.
Ellison's strong rebound made it a one-point game. The Bullets continued to pound the boards, with Adams grabbing a pair. In one possession, they missed seven shots before Ellison got called for an offensive foul.
Finally, with 3:52 left, Eackles swished a 20-footer to give the Bullets a 96-95 edge. The lead was short-lived, as Barkley made a baseline drive and added a free throw. Eackles tied it with a move in the lane and Adams followed with a runner and free throw for 101-98 with 3 minutes left.
Philadelphia twice sliced it to one. Grant then converted a rare Eackles miss with a rebound for 106-102.