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Legler is hurt as Nets get even Guard reinjures knee, Bullets change roles in New Jersey sequel, 107-86


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A week ago, he was shooting his way into the three-point shootout finals at All-Star Weekend at Gund Arena, a big step toward a return from reconstructive knee surgery the previous year.

Last night, Washington Bullets guard Tim Legler sat in front of his locker, trying to describe the frustration of hurting the knee again.

"I don't understand it," Legler said. "I worked so hard at this, and I just want to play so badly. Frustration doesn't even describe it."

Legler's injury is being initially described as a strained posterior capsule of the right knee (no ligament damage), and is not at all related to the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last April.

It was the biggest frustration in a night full of them as the Bullets were routed by the New Jersey Nets, 107-86, before a sellout crowd of 20,049 at Continental Airlines Arena in the second game of a home-and-home series.

It was the eighth straight road loss for the Bullets, who also have dropped 10 of their last 11 away from home. The frustrating thing about last night's loss is that less than 24 hours earlier, the Bullets had their best offensive outing of the season in a 125-107 win over the Nets at Baltimore Arena.

"I think this was a mental letdown on our part," said Bullets center Lorenzo Williams, who had four points and four rebounds after posting a double double on Friday. "They beat us the same way that we beat them. It was a letdown mentally, and a lesson to learn."

The lesson being the Bullets (23-27) can ill afford to lose these types of games if they have any aspirations of playing in the postseason.

Sure, the Nets were playing at home before just the fourth sellout crowd this season. But New Jersey (15-35) is a lower-division team that pretty much conceded this season even before it started.

It certainly wasn't expecting to win last night. Before the game, Kendall Gill was angry, Khalid Reeves was nursing an upset stomach and Kerry Kittles was uncertain whether he would play because of assorted injuries from two falls the night before.

But Reeves scored 17 of his 23 points after vomiting during the second quarter and Gill had 22 as New Jersey repaid Washington.

"The bottom line is we won, which is what we were supposed to do," Gill said. "We were embarrassed last night. We shouldn't lose to this team without Chris Webber [back injury]. It's all a state of mind. You have to believe you are going to win."

For the Bullets, it was a game in which they were completely out-hustled. After out-rebounding the Nets 49-37 on Friday, the Bullets were crushed on the boards last night, 66-42. The Nets had 33 rebounds by halftime, 13 from Jayson Williams and eight from former Maryland standout Tony Massenburg. Williams, the second-leading rebounder in the league, finished with 15 boards.

The Nets, as a team, grabbed 20 offensive rebounds.

"They did what they normally do on the offensive boards," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "What did they shoot, 36 percent in the first half [36.2] and we just gave them second and third chances. That's how they cleaned our clock in the first half."

And the Bullets were still within striking distance at the half, trailing 47-40. And in the third the Bullets got as close as 56-55 after a short jumper by Juwan Howard (17 points) with 5: 50 left.

But the Bullets could score just two more field goals the rest of the quarter, and went into the final period trailing by 10. It was never a game in the fourth, as the Nets completed a 39-point turnaround from the previous night.

"We tried to warn them," Bickerstaff said, of the Bullets playing the same team back to back. "Nobody made excuses. Everyone took responsibility."

And now the Bullets have to wait and see about Legler, who injured his leg while scrambling for a loose ball after a free throw by Williams in the second quarter. He will be examined perhaps as early as today.

"Jason was shooting a free throw, I tried to box him out, I went to the floor and my leg got pinned behind me," Legler said. "I felt a forced sharp pain. It was forced to go the full range of motion, and my leg is not ready for that.

"My ACL is fine," Legler added. "There is nothing wrong there."

Still, if Legler is out for any extended period of time, the Bullets again will be without their best shooter.

With Webber already out with a strained lower back (he might be back tomorrow, but more likely on Wednesday in Detroit), the Bullets have a tough challenge ahead.

"I don't want to call it [jinxed]," said Rod Strickland, whose 18 points led the Bullets. "Legs is a great shooter and we haven't had a chance to have him this year. To have him go down again, it's disappointing."

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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