LANDOVER -- This was the game the Washington Bullets figured to win, the game that would end the long losing streak. The Detroit Pistons seemed prime to be victimized, winning just one of their previous 10 games in the team's worst start since the 1980-81 season.
But Pistons guard Joe Dumars put his struggling team on his shoulders during the fourth quarter when he scored 16 of his game-high 27 points, as Detroit held off the Bullets, 97-95, before a sparse crowd of 8,143 at USAir Arena.
The crowd witnessed a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Bullets, who trailed 95-89 with 1:40 left after a three-pointer by Dumars. But with a chance to tie the game, Rex Chapman's running jumper bounced off the back rim with four seconds left and Detroit's Terry Mills pulled down the last of his season-high 17 rebounds to preserve the Detroit win.
And it extended Washington's losing streak to nine games, matching the team's longest losing streak of last season. The Bullets fell to 6-15 and continued their 0-for-December string. Detroit, which lost earlier this season to the Bullets, improved to 7-13.
"We should have beaten them here," said an obviously disappointed Chapman, who scored 17. "We're looking for a break, but not a break on the last play. We put ourselves in that position. We lost the game."
Just as much as Dumars won it. In his eighth year still perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, Dumars hit six of 11 shots in the fourth quarter ranging from two three-pointers to a baseline jumper shot while fading behind the backboard. It was a clutch performance in a game in which he hit just three of 11 shots in the first half.
"We knew they would go to him," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "Joe Dumars is pretty unstoppable at times."
His last field goal, a three-pointer from the right side with 1:40 left, gave Detroit a 95-89 lead and seemingly control of the game.
But a three-pointer by Chapman with 1:26 left pulled the Bullets within 95-92. After Dumars hit two free throws with 1:13 left, Michael Adams (13 points, 10 assists) hit a three-pointer from the right side that had Washington within 97-95 with 32.4 seconds left.
Then Dumars missed a jumper that gave the Bullets an opportunity to win or tie. The play was designed for Chapman to roll into the lane. Chapman let fly from about eight feet with four seconds left, the ball hit the back rim and Washington was a loser again.
"They're not going put you on the line [the Bullets shot a season-low 10 free throws], so you've got to take it strong," Chapman said. "I did. It just didn't fall."
Little fell for the Bullets in the second half, when the team shot 37.2 percent. Washington played well early, leading 28-18 in the first quarter.
But Detroit scored the last 10 points of the quarter to tie the game and scored the last five points of the second quarter that, after a three-pointer by Dumars at the buzzer, had the Pistons within 51-50. Detroit took the lead for good by scoring the last five points of the third quarter.
"We didn't play the first three quarters," Tom Gugliotta, who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, said. "We can't continue to do that and then turn it on in the last few minutes. We don't have a guy like Joe Dumars who can take a game over. He hit some incredible shots."
The Bullets played the game without Pervis Ellison, who complained of soreness in his left knee and did not dress. Ellison, who will have his knee examined today, said he plans to play on Saturday against the Utah Jazz.
It was Ellison's return for last weeks road trip, after starting the season on the injured list, that was suppose to give the Bullets a boost. Instead Washington is 0-6 since his return and seems like a team that's losing confidence fast.
"You're concerned with that," Unseld said, when asked about the team's confidence. "But these are grown men and they should be professional. It's not about losing confidence, you just need to go out and play."
Someone playing more minutes than usual was center Kevin Duckworth, who was on the court a team-high 40 minutes. Duckworth, who on Wednesday spoke about his role with the team, scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. It was the first time he had played over 40 minutes since the season opener.
But his extended role was of little help. The Bullets were hurt on the boards, getting out-rebounded 46-39 and allowing 17 offensive boards. Detroit, whose starters played 219 of a possible 240 minutes (each starter played at least 40 minutes), seemed to have the fresher legs -- particularly Dumars.
"Joe is stronger than any player we have in the fourth quarter," Detroit coach Don Chaney said.