Bullets force Magic to OT, lose, 128-121

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LANDOVER -- Let's be realistic. The Washington Bullets came into last night's game with four starters out, having just ended an eight-game losing streak. The Orlando Magic came in with young legs and the league's best record, leaving many to believe that the road to the NBA Finals will lead through Central Florida.

A game? It wasn't even supposed to be close.

So what do the Bullets do before their eighth straight sellout last night? They throw a scare into the Magic, leading much of the game and charging back at the end of regulation to force overtime. But Orlando rallied in the extra five-minute session, and earned a 128-121 win before 18,756 at the USAir Arena.

On a night when Shaquille O'Neal was in foul trouble -- he fouled out with 1:04 left in regulation -- the Magic got big second halves from Nick Anderson and Anfernee Hardaway. Anderson finished with a season-high 35 points, Hardaway with 29 points and 11 assists and the Magic was fortunate to escape with a win against the Atlantic Division's worst team.

O'Neal, the league's top scorer, had 28 points -- six in the second half -- and nine rebounds.

Juwan Howard recovered from a poor start to score 24 points. And Scott Skiles had 20 points and nine assists against his former teammates.

Hardaway opened the overtime with a reverse layup, and he hit the ensuing free throw for a 117-114 lead and Orlando never looked back. Orlando would lead by as many as six, with Hardaway and Anderson combining to score nine of Orlando's 14 points in overtime.

The teams were tied at 88 going into the fourth quarter, and Washington's chances looked good when O'Neal went to the bench with his fifth foul with 10:59 left and the Bullets leading 93-89.

Washington was later able to match that fourth-quarter lead after Howard's tip made it 97-93 with 9:27 left.

But minutes later the Magic would hit three three-pointers in a row, with Anderson's with 5:54 left giving Orlando a 107-102 lead.

Orlando's lead was 114-110 when O'Neal fouled out. Howard would hit one of two free throws then, and with 59.7 seconds left he hit two more that had the Bullets within 114-113.

Orlando's next possession found Anthony Avent trying to post up Gheorghe Muresan, but Washington's 7-foot-4 center simply caught the ball. Washington went to Calbert Cheaney on a clear-out on its next possession, and he was fouled. He $l managed one of two free throws, tying the game at 114 with 22.9 seconds left.

Hardaway drove to the basket with Orlando's next possession, but his shot before the buzzer missed and the game went into overtime.

With starting center Kevin Duckworth out, Shaquille O'Neal scored 22 points in the first half. But, as incredible as it sounds, O'Neal was pretty much contained in the half, and the Bullets shot 53.5 percent in taking a 65-62 halftime lead.

After the Magic scored the first four points of the game, the Bullets came back to take a 6-4 lead. And over the next four minutes the teams played even, with neither leading by more than two points.

Muresan was effective against O'Neal in the starting role, holding Orlando's All-Star center to two points in the time the two were matched against each other early on.

O'Neal would finish with 12 first-quarter points, with 10 of them coming against Jim McIlvaine and Kenny Walker. But Skiles had 13 points in the quarter, and helped the Bullets take control of the half.

With Washington down 18-16, Skiles hit a free throw. Then a jumper. Eleven of Skiles' first-quarter points would come over the final 4:07. The Bullets outscored the Magic 16-9 during that span and -- helped by a defense that blocked six shots -- finished the first quarter with a 32-27 lead.

There was almost a stunned silence as the crowd waited for the ailing Bullets -- missing Chris Webber, Don MacLean and Rex Chapman in addition to Duckworth -- to collapse. It wouldn't happen.

Mitchell Butler got the hot hand in the early part of the second quarter, scoring all eight of his second-quarter points over the first 4:34. Butler's three-pointer with 7:26 left gave Washington its biggest lead, 46-37.

Then Howard, who missed his first six shots, got hot as he hit three shots in a row. And the Bullets were able to match that nine-point lead when Skiles scored on a reverse layup with 2:47 left that gave Washington a 58-49 lead.

From there the Bullets got a little tentative. Muresan provided a few highlights, showing a few moves in scoring six points over that span. But when Anderson hit a three-pointer from the left corner with 2.5 seconds left, Orlando got to within 65-62 at the half.

Orlando opened the third quarter with an 8-4 run, Donald Royal's layup with 7:47 left giving the Magic its first lead since early in the game.

Anderson then hit back-to-back three-pointers, the last giving Orlando a 79-76 lead.

The Bullets hung tough, with Larry Stewart and Howard responding with layups as the Bullets regained the lead, 80-79.

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