LANDOVER -- When you have suffered as many excruciating losses in the closing minutes as the Washington Bullets have this season, it is difficult equating their pain threshold.
But yesterday's 112-110 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime at the Capital Centre hurt bad. Real bad.
With 5:51 left in regulation, the Bullets led 97-84. With 2:28 remaining, they still had a 101-93 cushion. But, in typical fashion, the game went slip, sliding away.
And you could count the ways:
* 1. Repeated offensive breakdowns in crunch time;
* 2. Crucial defensive lapses;
* 3. Poor adjustments to the Lakers traps, and,
* 4. That old bugaboo -- the absence of a "go-to guy" with the game on the line.
It all added up to a fifth straight loss and 17th in the past 21 games for the Bullets.
Now for the details:
With nine seconds left in regulation and his team leading 105-104, Wes Unseld inserted his best free-throw shooter, rookie Brent Price, who had converted 24 of his previous 25 foul shots.
It seemed like shrewd strategy when, three seconds later, Price was fouled by Lakers forward A. C. Green.
But Price clanked the first, and made the second for a 106-104 lead.
"I'll remember that missed throw in my dreams tonight," he said. "But we had so many chances to put this one away, it should have never come down to that."
Price was right, of course.
The Lakers (20-18), trying to end their own mini-slump (five of their past six), still had to make a tough shot to force overtime.
The Bullets defense seemed designed strictly to stop a three-point attempt. But the Lakers were quite content to play for the tie. They worked the ball to Green at the top of the key, and, surprisingly, the veteran forward met no resistance as he drove the lane for the tying layup.
"I tried to steal the ball," Harvey Grant said. "I went for a fake, and that left him with a clear lane to the basket."
Tied at 106, the Bullets had 3.6 seconds to execute a play from half-court. Unseld said they had several options, but it came down to a futile gamble when Grant and Pervis Ellison collided trying to catch Tom Gugliotta's lob pass under the basket as time expired.
The overtime proved a comedy of errors for the Bullets after Grant's jumper after 16 seconds gave them a brief 108-106 lead. In their next four possessions, Gugliotta was called for three seconds, LaBradford Smith and Michael Adams made errant passes and Adams' runner in the lane was rejected by James Worthy.
But the Bullets managed a 110-110 tie on Ellison's baseline post move with 65 seconds left. Sedale Threatt responded with a pressure jump shot over Adams with the 24-second clock expiring.
Washington had one last try to tie it with 7.5 seconds left. Rex Chapman, who had just entered the game, attempted an off-balance leaner that bounced off the rim to end the agony.
Wasted in this latest loss was Smith's most outstanding effort as a pro. The second-year guard scored a career-high 20 points and aggressively attacked the basket until he turned cold in the closing minutes and overtime. But Smith had plenty of company in unsuccessfully trying to solve the Lakers traps.
"That's what turned it around for us," Lakers coach Randy Pfund said. "The Bullets didn't seem comfortable attacking the trap."
Attack is exactly what the Bullets did not do.
"You've got to have a mind-set to make a quick pass and have someone attack the basket," said Grant, who led the Bullets with 23 points, but lost his touch in the closing minutes. "We were out there passing, passing, passing with the shot clock winding down, and then ending up taking a crazy shot."
Bullets veterans couldn't find the answers, but it was just the opposite for those of the Lakers.
Forward-center Sam Perkins, an eight-year veteran, recorded his first "triple-double" (16 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) of his career and the first by a Laker since Magic Johnson retired this year.
Worthy, showing his old dexterity, scored a game-high 25 points, including two three-point shots that helped to quickly reduce the Bullets 13-point advantage to three.
And resourceful Green, not known for his offense, contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds, repeatedly giving the Lakers second-shot opportunities when the Bullets were trying to cling to their lead.
"We played like rookies in stretches today," Perkins said, "but we just kept playing hard until it finally paid off."
Close, but . . .
The Bullets' have lost eight games by five or fewer points this season:
Date.. .. .. ..Opponent.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. ..Result
Nov. 7.. .. .at Orlando.. .. .. .. .. .. ..Magic 103, Bullets 98
Nov. 28.. .. at Milwaukee.. .. .. .. .. .. Bucks 97, Bullets 95
Dec. 5.. .. .. Indiana.. .. .. .. .. .. .Pacers 111, Bullets 109
Dec. 21.. .. .Cleveland.. .. .. .. .. .. ..Cavaliers 111, Bullets 107
Dec. 26.. ..Detroit..(at Baltimore Arena) ..Pistons 99, Bullets 97
Jan. 8.. .. .Philadelphia.. .. .. .. .. ..76ers 119, Bullets 117
Jan. 13.. .. .at Boston.. .. .. .. .. .. ..Celtics 98, Bullets 93
Jan. 24.. .. .Los Angeles.. .. .. .. .. .Lakers 112, Bullets 110 OT