LANDOVER - Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal is so big and strong that most teams opt to double-team him in the low post. The Washington Bullets last night decided to let Gheorghe Muresan play O'Neal one-on-one, so conscious were they of the Magic's three-point shooting prowess.
So O'Neal went to work, bullying his way to a season-high 49 points and 17 rebounds eight on the offensive glass. His sidekick, Anfernee Hardaway, didn't have a bad night, either, scoring 30. The duo combined for 39 of Orlando's final 40 points en route to a 111-108 overtime win before a sellout of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
The game went down to the wire, with Washington's Tim Legler providing a last-second tease, his three-point attempt at the buzzer just missing. It was the second straight loss for the Bullets (30-37), who fell farther behind the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference now held by the Miami Heat (34-33).
"It was a heck of a game," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "It's a shame I couldn't enjoy it."
It became an even more disappointing evening when Lynam learned at halftime that rookie forward Rasheed Wallace had fractured his left thumb. Wallace, who played just 21 minutes, is expected to miss the rest of the season.
"That definitely hurts us, missing another big body," said Juwan Howard, who likely will play the bulk of his minutes the rest of the season at power forward. "We're not catching any luck at all."
The Bullets did catch some luck against the league's third-best team in a game that had 20 ties and 26 lead changes, with neither team leading by more than six.
That margin was held by the Bullets, who led 97-91 after a short jumper by Muresan with 4: 09 left in regulation. The Magic stormed back behind O'Neal and Hardaway, who combined to score 24 of Orlando's fourth-quarter points.
O'Neal scored six straight points for a 97-97 tie. Later, tied at 99, Hardaway hit a short jumper over the outstretched hands of Calbert Cheaney for a 101-99 lead with 32 seconds left.
The Bullets tied it at 101 on two free throws by Howard (27 points, eight rebounds, five assists) with 18 seconds left, and only made it to overtime after Dennis Scott, who this season set the NBA single-season record for three-pointers made, missed a wide-open attempt from the right corner.
O'Neal scored on a short hook to open the overtime, and the Magic never trailed in the extra five minutes. Twice the Bullets tied the score, but both times Hardaway hit tough jumpers with Cheaney draped all over him.
"It didn't look like he missed a shot," Legler said of Hardaway, who shot 3-for-4 in overtime. "He was hitting 18-foot fade-aways with guys in his face. There's nothing else you can do."
Hardaway and O'Neal were so strong that after Brooks Thompson made a jumper with 4: 45 left in the third, the two combined to score 39 straight points for Orlando. That streak only ended with three seconds left in the game, when Brian Shaw hit a free throw.
"They didn't want to double me, so I just had to bring all my stuff out of my suitcase," said O'Neal, who was four points shy of his career high. "Muresan is very big and hard to stop in the paint."
It was a night that Muresan would like to forget. After scoring 30 points against the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson on Wednesday night, Muresan had just eight points in 33 minutes before fouling out.
One of his early shots was blocked by O'Neal, and he appeared tentative the rest of the game. While playing defensively, Muresan was constantly backed down by O'Neal, who responded with an assortment of hooks and dunks.
"I had a very bad night, I moved slowly and lost my balance," Muresan said. "Shaq is a monster. With him, it's dribble, dribble, dribble and dunk."
NOTES: Reserve G Chris Whitney, playing on the final day of his second 10-day contract, scored 19 points in 24 minutes including 16 points in the fourth quarter. Whitney will be signed for the rest of the season. . . . Chris Webber was on the Bullets' bench for the first time since shoulder surgery ended his season. . . . Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson attended.
Pub Date: 3/23/96