Blazing Bullets rally falls short


PORTLAND, Ore. -- They had just successfully dug themselves out of a 16-point second-half hole, and the Washington Bullets found themselves in a winnable game.

A three-pointer by Rex Chapman had just gotten the Bullets to within two points late in the game, and you could see the energy in the Washington huddle.

"We're gonna win this one, we're gonna win this one," Doug Overton shouted to his teammates during a timeout. "Let's go get it."

But when the Bullets came out of that huddle, Overton ruined a near-flawless game by fouling Rod Strickland in the backcourt. Strickland hit both free throws with 2:51 left, Portland's lead doubled from two to four and the Trail Blazers were able to escape with a 111-106 win before a crowd of 12,888 at the Memorial Coliseum, the 800th consecutive sellout.

It was a tough game to lose for the Bullets, who last night began a four-game, seven-day road trip that will pit them against three more playoff-bound teams: the Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.

The Blazers entered the game in a bit of turmoil as Harvey Grant, unhappy with his lack of playing time, skipped Monday's practice; and teammate James Robinson, also unhappy, was kicked out of the session. But the Blazers got 30 points from Clifford Robinson, 26 points from Strickland and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Buck Williams to gain the victory.

With Juwan Howard missing the game for the Bullets with a sprained right ankle and Chris Webber starting slowly, the Blazers were able to dominate the boards. Portland had a 47-38 rebounding advantage, including 19 offensive rebounds, and got points off second-chance opportunities.

"Their offensive rebounding hurt us," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "They are one of the better teams in the league at doing that. We did a decent job [15 offensive rebounds] ourselves."

Five of the offensive rebounds by the Bullets came in the fourth quarter when Washington rallied. The Bullets had trailed by as many as 10 early in the quarter, and were down 99-90 after a jumper by Clifford Robinson with five minutes left.

But Calbert Cheaney, whose 27 points led the Bullets, then scored on a short jumper and Washington scored seven straight points, ending with the three-pointer by Chapman with 2:55 left that cut the lead to 99-97.

Portland called timeout, during which Overton made his "we're gonna win" comment. Seconds later Overton committed the foul in the backcourt, Strickland hit the two free throws with 2:51 left and Washington's momentum was temporarily halted.

"We couldn't get over the hump," Lynam said. "Doug's foul in the backcourt -- at the time it was a two-point game and it hurt."

The Bullets were never able to get closer than three points in the final minutes, spoiling a spirited comeback that silenced the fans in the normally loud Coliseum.

"I think we caught them coasting a bit, and we kept playing hard," said Chapman, who scored 26 points. "We just sort of hung around and I think they thought we were done. Things like that happen in the NBA, but in the end we couldn't seem to play it down the stretch the way we wanted."

Webber played a good game down the stretch, finishing the game with 21 points and nine rebounds. Webber had two points and two rebounds at halftime, appearing out of the flow of the game early on.

Cheaney was in the flow the entire night. He hit 11 of 18 shots, and played very aggressively in his 38 minutes. Cheaney had struggled lately, shooting 40 percent from the field and averaging 10.0 points in his five previous games before last night.

"I could tell right from the start that he was at the top of his game," Lynam said of Cheaney. "He was very assertive and aggressive."

Cheaney said a talk with the coaches snapped him out of his recent funk.

"The coaches told me to go out and just play," Cheaney said. "They said the way I practice and the way I play in the game is like night and day. I just want to get out there and have fun when I'm playing."

The results for Cheaney were positive, but the overall results for the team weren't. The Bullets lost, and the road trip gets tougher from here.

"We definitely had opportunities," Cheaney said. "We were breathing down their necks in the fourth quarter, but they were able to hit their free throws down the stretch."

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