LANDOVER -- The Washington Bullets displayed all the growing pains and inconsistencies of a young, inexperienced team in their home debut last night, blowing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter to bow to the Orlando Magic, 103-98, before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
Just as they did in losing their road opener in Charlotte, 126-119, Friday night, the Bullets wasted numerous chances in crunch time through turnovers and missed scoring opportunities. They scored only three points in the last five minutes.
A layup by reserve guard Chris Corchiani put the Magic ahead, 99-97, and Pervis Ellison, who sat out most of the first half in foul trouble, then missed two free throws and a chance to tie with 62 seconds remaining.
The most impressive rookie was Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal, the 7-foot-1, 270-pound center from LSU who was the first player chosen in the 1992 draft.
O'Neal scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to give the Magic its second straight victory. He also intimidated the Bullets on the inside, causing them to repeatedly hurry their shots while also blocking four shots.
O'Neal, who had 12 points and 18 rebounds in his NBA debut, finished the first half with 16 points and nine boards.
"He showed me he's going to be a great player," said Ellison, who got into early foul trouble defending O'Neal and finished with only eight points on 4-for-12 shooting.
"He's got tremendous size. . . . We know he can shoot, rebound and block shots. By double-teaming him most of the night, we tried to make him prove he can pass, too. When he gets that down, he'll be unstoppable."
O'Neal said: "Earlier this season, coach [Matt Goukas] sat me down and told me my role was to rebound, block shots or change the shot. He also told me to score around the basket."
But it was Corchiani, who was playing for the Raleigh Bullfrogs in the Global Basketball League this time last year, who burned the Bullets down the stretch.
Washington had moved ahead, 94-86, on rookie Don MacLean's baseline jumper with 5 minutes and 24 seconds left when Corchiani, filling in for starter Scott Skiles, went to work.
He scored seven points in the next four minutes on short jumpers and layups, beating both Michael Adams and Brent Price off the dribble, to put the Magic ahead to stay.
"That was part Corchiani and part our [poor] defense," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "We were trying to get the ball out of Nick Anderson's hands, but we allowed Corchiani to go right down the lane without contesting him."
The Bullets still had several chances to pull even in the closing minutes, but had a turnover by Adams, three missed free throws and a block by O'Neal on Rex Chapman's layup attempt with 42 seconds left and Washington trailing, 100-97.
The Bullets started and ended the game again exhibiting shortcomings with their half-court game. This was particularly evident in the first quarter when the motion offense was non-existent.
"We've got a lot of shooters on this team," said Adams, "but to make our offense work, people have to set picks, and no one was doing that in the first quarter."
It was an especially frustrating night for lottery pick Tom Gugliotta who had looked so impressive against Charlotte. The former North Carolina State star quickly followed Ellison to the bench in the first half and scored only four points (1-for-6 shooting) in his Capital Centre debut.
One game into the season, the Magic was forced to make a change in its starting lineup. Jeff Turner replaced Terry Catledge at power forward. Catledge, a former Bullet, suffered a bruised ,, rib in the opening night victory over Miami.
Unseld kept the same lineup he used in losing the road opener to Charlotte. Unseld used an unusual defensive matchup, starting Chapman against small forward Dennis Scott and using Harvey Grant to police Anderson, who scored a career-high 42 against Miami.
But the troublesome matchup found Ellison guarding O'Neal, who drew two fouls on the Bullets center in the first five minutes, forcing Ellison to the bench.
Washington made only three of its first 11 shots, allowing Orlando to jump out to a 9-6 lead. Grant's spinning jumper tied it at 10, but the Magic kept going inside to O'Neal for easy baskets.
A foul line jumper by Buck Johnson, acquired as a free agent this summer, gave the Bullets the lead at 15-14. A rotating defense against O'Neal allowed Scott and Turner to break loose for layups as the Magic bounced back on top, 22-19, at the end of the first quarter.
NOTES: Former Maryland and Arizona forward Brian Williams, now with the Magic, is still perplexed by recurring dizzy spells that plagued him throughout the off-season. He left last night's game complaining of dizziness with two minutes remaining in the first half and did not return. "I haven't felt completely right for one day," said Williams, who was in uniform last night. A low grade infection and a protein problem was discovered after Williams again experienced lightheadedness before Friday night's opening game against Miami. He has been diagnosed as having an irregular heartbeat and possible anemia. Williams is taking different medication for protein, his heart problem, an iron deficiency and dehydration. "Until he's healthy, he won't be able to give us a complete effort," said team trainer Lenny Currier. "He's got a lack of energy on the floor." Just before training camp began, Williams dropped a weight on his big toe and suffered a fracture that kept him out of action the entire camp and for the first three preseason games. He played only two
minutes against the Heat on Friday.