LANDOVER -- Despite the fatigue from three games in three nights, despite the lack of healthy bodies, the Washington Bullets found themselves playing even with the Charlotte Hornets, a team fighting for the top spot in the Central Division.
Then, in the fourth quarter, reality set in.
Washington went through a stretch of seven minutes in the fourth quarter during which it did not score a field goal, and the Bullets were unable to recover in the 98-93 loss to the Hornets before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at the USAir Arena last night.
It was the 10th straight loss for the Bullets (18-56), matching the team's longest skid of the season. Charlotte (45-28) extended its winning streak to three games and pulled within two games of the Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers.
Considering the Bullets' three consecutive games against three teams that are playoff-bound, Washington didn't play that poorly. The difference in the game was three-pointers -- the Hornets hit nine of 23, Washington one of 13.
"It jumps right out at you: It's called three-point shots," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "Larry [Johnson] shot a little better than he has a right. They make nine without Dell Curry [sprained left ankle] and Scott Burrell [torn Achilles', out for the season]."
Johnson hit four of eight three-point attempts and scored 22 points. Hersey Hawkins also hit four three-pointers and scored 17 points. Alonzo Mourning didn't hit any from long distance, but scored 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting.
Four players combined to shoot Washington's 13 three-pointers, and only one person was successful. That was Mitchell Butler, whose three-pointer was really a lob pass to Chris Webber that was a little long and clanged off the backboard and into the basket.
"I didn't make eye contact with Chris, and threw it up there," Butler said. "It's funny, it's wild."
It's how the season has gone for the Bullets.
Webber again was brilliant, recording his second triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Webber exploded for 16 points and seven rebounds in the third quarter that helped the Bullets get back into the game. But his fourth-quarter line of three points, two assists and two rebounds were not enough.
"We just missed a lot of open shots, a lot were in and out," Webber said of the fourth quarter, when the Bullets hit five of 14 shots. "That really hurt us late."
Washington had trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, but pulled within 55-52 at the half.
With Webber taking command in the third quarter, the Bullets took a 68-66 lead on his dunk with 6:27 left, and were within 79-76 going into the final quarter.
Butler's misfired three-pointer came with 11:11 left and gave Washington an 81-79 lead. That would be the team's last lead, with the Bullets not scoring another field goal until a short jumper by Gheorghe Muresan (13 points) with 5:11 left.
"We had a stretch where we were just stuck," said Doug Overton, who finished with 15 points. "It's hard to play defense when you're not scoring."
It's even more difficult to win under those circumstances. The Hornets constantly double-teamed Muresan and Webber, but the Bullets were unable to hit from the perimeter.
"That's been our problem consistently over the season," Lynam said. "Our defense was decent."
The Bullets again were undermanned, as Rex Chapman sat out with a strained abdominal muscle and Juwan Howard was sidelined with a sprained right ankle.