LANDOVER -- Seeking inspiration after losing seven straight, the Washington Bullets invited Marie Osmond to sing the national anthem and a number of the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins to be their guests at the Capital Centre last night for their game with the first-place New York Knicks.
It almost worked. Down by 17 at halftime, the Bullets kept scratching back until two free throws by Michael Adams with 1.7 seconds left tied it at the end of regulation.
But the Knicks turned to All-Star center Patrick Ewing to gain control early in overtime and rolled to their fifth straight victory, 125-114, before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
Typically, the Bullets (14-29) displayed great intensity, but did not have a go-to guy, such as Ewing, with a victory within their reach.
"If we were quitters," said Bullets captain Harvey Grant, "we could have lost by 50 after getting down 20 in the first half. But we never threw in the towel. We forced them into overtime. Then they turned to their money man, and Ewing [six of his 20 points in overtime] cashed in when it counted."
In losing for the first time in five overtime contests, the Bullets displayed more aggressiveness in attacking the boards than in Wednesday's 101-89 loss in New York. There they were manhandled, 54-41, by Ewing, Charles Oakley and muscular reserve Anthony Mason.
Led by center Pervis Ellison (19 points, 19 rebounds), Washington finished with a 45-40 rebounding edge, and its second shots in the last four minutes of regulation helped erase a 10-point deficit.
Adams, who has struggled offensively the past month and has watched his field-goal percentage dip to .390, reverted to his early-season form, attacking the basket in the second half after being limited to five first-half shots.
"I had to get myself going," said Adams, who finished with 24 points. "I just didn't take my man to the basket in the first half. [Coach] Wes [Unseld] told me to be more aggressive in coming off picks and looking for my shot."
Adams, a revitalized Tom Hammonds (16 points) and reserve guard A. J. English (21 points) sparked the comeback.
But elusive guard John Starks and Ewing each scored a pair of baskets to provide New York with a 117-110 cushion in overtime, and the Bullets ran out of rallies.
"We played a great first half," said coach Pat Riley, who, in a half-season, has transformed the Knicks into conference title contenders, "and then we had a letup at the start of the second half, and that seemed to turn the momentum in Washington's favor."
New York was on its game in the first half, committing only one turnover and shooting 56 percent from the field. Forward Xavier McDaniel (28 points) made 11 of his first 12 shots before cooling off in the second half.
"With Unseld coaching, the Bullets just won't quit," said Riley. "Their traps started to bother us. We had a chance to close it out in regulation, but we missed some free throws [two by McDaniel] in the final seconds."
That gave the Bullets another life. Adams tried to shoot over a lunging Ewing and missed. Ellison kept the rebound alive, and Adams grabbed it on the baseline and was fouled by McDaniel with 1.7 seconds left.
He made them both, but the Bullets would never catch the Knicks again.
The Bullets, who have lost five straight at home, will try to end their tailspin against the last-place Orlando Magic tomorrow afternoon.
NOTES: Bullets owner Abe Pollin dedicated the Capital Centre media room last night in memory of Marc Splaver, a former publicity director. Splaver died of leukemia in 1978. He was 29. During his five years with the Bullets, he was twice voted NBA Publicity Director of the Year. Said Pollin: "I can't think of a better way of honoring Marc. He set a standard for his peers."