DENVER -- After a tumultuous day that began with their coach getting fired and ended with the Washington Bullets failing in their attempt to avoid being swept in their four-game road trip, Tracy Murray said he was relieved about the coming four-day break.
"It's a perfect time for the All-Star break," said Murray. "We've been together since the start of the season and everyone's kind of sick of looking at each other."
After two straight losses in which they were never in the game, the Bullets at least had a chance to enter the break on a positive note.
But Dale Ellis made sure that didn't happen as the Denver Nuggets' guard hit a game-winning, foul-line jumper with 11 seconds left for a 106-104 win before a crowd of 9,525 at McNichols Arena.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Bullets, who went winless on the trip leading up to the All-Star break and have dropped 10 of their past 13 games. It was also the team's seventh straight loss on the road.
With Jim Lynam getting fired early in the day, and with assistant coach Bob Staak taking over on an interim basis, the Bullets could have easily found themselves distracted.
But they played well against a Denver team that has won seven of its past 11 games, getting 28 points and 10 assists from Rod Strickland, and 22 points from Juwan Howard.
"We weren't distracted," Howard said. "We got it going in the second half. We picked up our defense and got a lot of buckets in transition."
But the Bullets, who held the Nuggets to 19 fourth-quarter points, were done in by several turnovers in the final minutes.
After trailing by 11 at the start of the quarter, the Bullets had taken a 102-101 lead on a Strickland jumper with 2: 06 left. But with a chance to increase that lead, Howard committed a turnover with 1: 27 left.
Mark Jackson scored on the ensuing possession with 1: 13 left for a 103-102 lead.
Then Murray committed Washington's 17th and final turnover of the game on a bad pass with 1: 01 left, denying the Bullets a chance to take the lead. Washington did manage to tie the game at 104 when Strickland banked in a shot from the right side with 29 seconds left.
But Ellis ran off a screen and received a pass from Jackson at the foul line, and hit a jumper over the outstretched arms of Murray with 11 seconds left for a 106-104 lead.
The Bullets had one last chance to either tie or win the game, but Harvey Grant's shot was blocked by Ervin Johnson with three seconds left, sealing it for the Nuggets.
"We played hard, but we turned the ball over too much," Staak said. "I thought we came out a little tentative, but we corrected some of the things from our last two games."
After losing by a combined 52 points in their previous two contests, Strickland said he was at least happy to play a meaningful fourth quarter.
"We played well and they played well," Strickland said. "We just couldn't get over the hump. Hopefully, we will continue to make progress."
That progress will have to come after the break, at which time there might be a new coach and a new system in place.
"It's good to have this break now," Howard said. "This is a test of our wills. It's going to be a task for us the rest of the season."
(Box score, 4C)
Pub Date: 2/06/97