PHILADELPHIA -- It has been 16 years since the Washington Bullets started a season with three wins, and last night they had a golden opportunity to accomplish that. The winless Philadelphia 76ers were playing patsy most of the night, trailing by as many as 18 points early in the fourth quarter.
But the Sixers came alive just as the Bullets got sloppy, and a layup by Dana Barros with 7.1 seconds left after a disputed turnover gave Philadelphia a 98-97 victory at the Spectrum.
With 12 seconds left, the 76ers -- looking for a final shot -- turned the ball over. Scott Skiles passed to Rex Chapman as the 76ers pressed in the backcourt. Chapman tried to dribble through a double team, tumbling to the floor. As the Bullets howled for a foul, Barros scooped up the ball and drove for the game-winner, his layup just getting over Chapman, who made a desperate attempt to recover.
Tom Gugliotta's fadeaway and Don MacLean's follow-up fell short in the final seconds, leaving the Bullets to wonder how their best start since the 1978-79 season had slipped away while Philadelphia celebrated its first win of the year.
Former Bullet Jeff Malone scored 22 points to lead the Sixers (1-3). Gugliotta and Chapman each scored 19 for the Bullets (2-1), who had led the whole game before the final basket.
The defeat spoiled the return of Bullets coach Jim Lynam, who coached the 76ers for five seasons before taking over the role of general manager for two years.
After starting the season with wins over Orlando and Chicago by a combined four points, the Bullets appeared to have last night's game in hand, and led 83-65 with 8:24 remaining after a short jumper in the lane by MacLean.
The 76ers increased their defensive pressure and fought back, pulling to 95-91 after Clarence Weatherspoon was fouled as he scored on a baseline dunk and converted the three-point play with 2:25 left.
Two free throws by Skiles increased the lead to 97-91 with under two minutes left, and the Bullets forced a turnover on Philadelphia's next possession. But Chapman missed on a long three-pointer, and Malone hit a jumper with 1:28 left to pull Philadelphia to 97-93.
After a technical foul -- the Bullets' eight in the game for illegal defense -- Shawn Bradley's layup brought Philadelphia within 97-96 with 44.4 seconds left. Washington's Kevin Duckworth, posting up Bradley, was called for traveling to give the Sixers possession, before the 76ers turnover and Chapman's subsequent spill set up Barros' layup.
It was one of the few shots to fall on a night of sloppy shooting.
So far the new shooter-friendly rules aimed at benefiting offenses have had little effect on the Sixers, who managed just 34 points in the first half against the Bullets.
Philadelphia was able to stay with the Bullets through the first 12 minutes, despite a cameo appearance by Bradley, its $44 million man. Bradley was loudly booed when he entered the game with 5:51 left in the first quarter, but he didn't have to deal with the verbal abuse for long as he returned to the bench less than five minutes later with three fouls.
Philadelphia did display a fine young player in rookie Sharone Wright, who scored nine points in that opening period to help the Sixers stay within 25-21.
But for the most part, Philadelphia's shooting was abysmal. From the 1:48 mark in the first quarter until a jumper by Lloyd Daniels with 4:31 left in the half, the Sixers missed 12 straight field-goal attempts.
Meanwhile, the Bullets, despite having Calbert Cheaney and MacLean both pick up three first-half fouls, were taking advantage. Mitchell Butler's layup with less than two minutes left gave Washington its biggest lead, 49-34.
And behind a balanced attack in which Gugliotta scored 13 and Chapman 12, the Bullets were able to take a 54-39 halftime lead as they held the Sixers to 31.8 percent shooting from the field.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter, the Bullets' lead was as high as 62-44, coming after a jumper by Gugliotta.
Later in the third quarter, the 76ers gave no sign of the comeback to come, as they were unable to pull closer than 13 points. Philadelphia didn't score its 50th point until Wright hit two free throws with 3:50 left in the quarter and trailed, 73-59, going into the final period.
Washington ..... 25 .. 29 .. 19 .. 24 .. -- .. 97
Philadelphia ... 21 .. 18 .. 20 .. 39 .. -- .. 98