Kings top Bullets, 105-102

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Since arriving from Kansas City in 1985 the Sacramento Kings haven't had a winning season. They've had six seasons where they've failed to win at least 30 games, giving fans over the years little to cheer about.

But there was something the Kings could say they had proud ownership of in recent years -- the Washington Bullets. That trend continued last night, but only barely.

It took a three-pointer by Mitch Richmond from the top of the key with 12.2 seconds for the Kings to escape with a 105-102 win over the Bullets before a sellout crowd of 17,317 at the Arco Arena.

It was Washington's fourth straight loss to Sacramento, and the eighth in its last nine games in the series. It's the most success the Kings have had against any team during the past five years.

Overall, the Bullets have now lost seven straight and 14 of their past 16 going into tomorrow night's game against the Golden State Warriors.

It's not that the Bullets didn't have their chances to end their losing streak. The Bullets, who returned three of their four injured starters to the lineup, took a 102-100 lead on Juwan Howard's jumper with 27.4 seconds left.

Then Richmond hit his shot. With another chance to regain the lead, Mitchell Butler was called for a charge against Richmond with eight seconds left. Richmond was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play, hit both free throws and the Kings had the win.

"I was kind of shocked," Butler said of the charge call. "I didn't feel like I touched him. But Jess [Kersey] made the call, and he's been around a long time. You hate to have a game decided like that. It's unfortunate."

It was unfortunate that the Bullets wasted perhaps their best quarter of defensive basketball as they held Sacramento to just four field goals in the final period. That came after a third quarter in which the Kings hit 70.0 percent from the field.

"We put some good pressure on and generated some steals and turnovers and had them a little flustered," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "That was the defensive quarter of the year for us."

But the defense came up one play too short. Leading up to Richmond's game-winning shot, the Bullets doubled rookie Brian Grant in the low post. Grant passed out to Spud Webb, who passed to Richmond. The defensive rotation was late, and Richmond (28 points) found the game-winner.

"We didn't want to give up a three, especially to Richmond," Lynam said. "That's why he's Mitch Richmond."

Former Maryland star Walt Williams also plagued the Bullets, scoring 19 points with nine rebounds.

Even after the charging call against Butler, and the two free throws by Richmond that followed, the Bullets had one more chance to tie. But, trailing 105-102, Webber's three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

"I was the third option," Webber admitted. "But I had a good look. Maybe I was a little too open."

For the second night in a row, Howard played a solid game. He hit seven of 12 shots in the fourth quarter, and grabbed seven of his team-high 12 rebounds over that span. But it was all in vain.

"Its discouraging to loose any way, but especially when you fight hard to come back and make crucial buckets in the final minute," Howard said. "Then you give up a three-point shot that breaks your back."

After falling behind by 90-79 after Bobby Hurley's three-pointer with 9:22 left, Howard scored the next seven points. His layup with 5:47 left had Washington within 90-86.

Sacramento increased its lead to 95-88 after two free throws by Williams with 4:45 left. But Washington scored the next eight points, taking a 96-95 lead on Anthony Tucker's tip with 2:30 left.

Later Grant would hit one of two free throws to give Sacramento a 99-98 lead. But on the other end Howard hit a short turnaround jumper for a 100-99 lead with 1:12 left.

The Bullets got 19 points each from Kevin Duckworth, back after missing two games with a sore Achilles' tendon, and Webber, who sat out Monday's game in Phoenix after suffering an injured eye in Saturday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rex Chapman also returned after missing five games with a strained groin muscle to score 11 points in 22 minutes.

Webber, who played his rookie season nearby for the Warriors, was loudly booed during pre-game introductions and throughout the game.

Washington had trailed by as many as 14 points in the game, but got back in the game in the fourth quarter in a surprising manner -- the Bullets played defense.

There was also a surprising cast -- Webber was the lone starter, playing alongside Howard, Butler, Tucker and Doug Overton during much of the fourth quarter.

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