Late collapse frustrates Bullets in loss to Magic


ORLANDO, Fla. -- From one side of the Washington Bullets locker room to the other, the words "poor," "horrible" and "lack of execution" were used to describe last night's loss to the Orlando Magic.

Sound familiar? In the case of the Bullets, the opponents may change, but the on-court play remains the same. For 2 1/2 quarters the Bullets were able to stay within striking distance, but a late rally gave the Magic a 112-89 win before a sellout crowd of 15,291 at the Orlando Arena.

A three-day retreat to Florida turned out to be anything but fun in the sun for the Bullets, who dropped back-to-back games in Miami and Orlando by a combined 56 points. Play like that just adds a bit of pressure to tomorrow night's matchup against the Dallas Mavericks.

While the Bullets continue to struggle, the Magic for the first time this season demonstrated a bit of consistency. Second in the Atlantic Division, the Magic won four straight for the first time.

Shaquille O'Neal scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Orlando, and had the luxury of watching the latter part of the game from the bench as the Magic built its lead to 25. Forward Nick Anderson scored 21 points and had eight rebounds.

Tom Gugliotta scored 23 and Don MacLean added 16 for the Bullets, who were blown out after pulling to within one point at the end of the third quarter.

"We were in the game all night, until the end of the third quarter," MacLean said. "We didn't shoot the ball well. We really would've made a game of it had we shot better."

No, 40.9 percent shooting doesn't win many games. Still the Bullets were within 65-64 after a jumper by MacLean with 6:24 left in the third quarter, and later within 69-67 after two free throws by Gugliotta with 4:31 left.

From there, it was downhill. Washington missed four shots and turned the ball over twice on its next six possessions on an 8-0 Orlando run that made it 77-67.

By quarter's end the Magic led 84-71, and quickly increased it to 90-71 by scoring the first six points of the fourth period.

"I'm bothered by our execution, but I'm not bothered by it any more now than I am any other night," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "Against good teams, it's very difficult for us to recuperate from mistakes like that."

Gugliotta was more succinct.

"We just played horrible," he said. "We had opportunities to try to getthe lead, and we just didn't play well. It's a game that we can win."

Against O'Neal it's a game you can win if you have a center, which the Bullets didn't much of the night. O'Neal got Kevin Duckworth in foul trouble early, and simply overpowered Gheorghe Muresan. Unseld was forced to play Gugliotta against O'Neal in the second half.

Unseld was not pleased about the way O'Neal was allowed to back his way toward the basket.

Asked if he complained to the officials about O'Neal's tactics, Unseld said: "I talked to them the whole time. It doesn't do much good."

A little frustration began to show with the Bullets, with MacLean picking up a technical in the third quarter after Hardaway appeared to hit him on two straight shots.

MacLean, who was defended well by Hardaway in the first half, was getting the best of his battle against the rookie in the third quarter when he scored eight of his points. "I got fouled all night," MacLean said.

MacLean said he was looking forward to Saturday's rematch at the USAir Arena. "I think we can get these guys at our place," he said.

For the Bullets' sake, it's now a matter of getting anybody -- particularly the Mavericks tomorrow.

"We basically have to keep plugging away," Gugliotta said. "We have to regroup and keep fighting."

NOTES: Gugliotta had seven assists. Michael Adams had seven points and three assists, finishing the two-game trip with seven points and seven assists in 59 minutes.

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