Another One Gets Away
By Richard Justice
Mitchell Butler caught the image of Chris Webber sprinting toward the basket and figured that sooner or later, Webber would look back for the ball. When he didn't, Butler threw the ball anyway, a long, high lob that was supposed to set up a thunderous dunk.
Instead -- as sometimes happens with the Washington Bullets, who lost to the Charlotte Hornets, 98-93, in front of 18,756 last night at USAir Arena -- things didn't go exactly as planned.
Butler threw the ball a bit higher and a bit longer than he intended, and just as he was about to curse his mistake, he watched in amazement as the ball banked off the glass and rattled through the basket.
A three-point field goal.
Their first of the evening.
Their last of the evening.
"That was wild," Butler said. "I couldn't begin to tell you what that was like. I didn't make eye contact with Chris and just tried to get it in his vicinity. I couldn't believe it."
On another night when the Bullets (18-56) were short-handed, another night when they played solidly at times, only to flame out in the fourth quarter, they provided another packed house with perhaps the weirdest highlight of this weird season. It wasn't the only one on a night when the Bullets tied a Washington franchise record with their 10th consecutive defeat. It's the second time this season they've lost 10 in a row, something they'd done previously only during the 1992-93 season. (The Baltimore Bullets lost 13 in a row during the 1966-67 season). With a 10-27 home record, they also remained on course for their worst season in history, and even if they win their remaining four home games, they will tie a franchise record for home losses in a season.
It was also a night Chris Webber had his second triple-double of the season with 23 points (16 in the third quarter), 11 rebounds and 10 assists to go with five blocked shots. And it was a night when Calbert Cheaney tossed aside the protective goggles the doctor had ordered him to wear and scored 23 points despite a left eye swollen from a cut that required five stitches Thursday night.
The Bullets played solidly, and briefly led one of the best teams in the NBA in the fourth quarter. But it fell apart because they went six minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter as Alonzo Mourning interrupted his jawing with Webber long enough to score 25 points. Larry Johnson scored 22 and went 4 of 8 from three-point range. Hersey Hawkins scored 17, making 4 of 8 three-pointers.
Still, the one shot that a lot of people will remember is the one that wasn't meant to fall.
The Bullets had missed their first nine three-point shots when Butler's pass went in, and they proceeded to miss their last three for a 1-for-13 night from three-point range.
The Hornets (45-28) didn't have two of their best outside shooters, injured Dell Curry and Scott Burrell. They didn't need them because of Johnson and Hawkins and because they shot 9 for 23 on three-pointers.
"It jumps right off the sheet," Bullets Coach Jim Lynam said when asked for a postgame analysis. "It's called three-point shooting."
Butler's strange shot had given the Bullets an 81-79 lead with 11:10 remaining. At that point, all the demons that have haunted the Bullets took over again. With Juwan Howard, Scott Skiles and Rex Chapman injured, Lynam left his starters in longer than usual, and the Bullets looked like a tired team and one playing for the third time in as many nights.
In the end, though, they were beaten by an old formula. Charlotte double- and triple-teamed Webber and Gheorghe Muresan around the basket, and when the Bullets swung the ball to the perimeter, no one could hit a jumper.
"When you get good looks, you've got to knock some of them down," Lynam said.
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company