Bullets Take Magic Out of the Game
By Richard Justice
From the moment Shaquille O'Neal walked onto the court wearing a suit and loafers, this was going to be a different kind of game. Washington Bullets guard Doug Overton was reminded of that fact again early in the evening when he brushed past Penny Hardaway and was told: "We're trying to get ready for the playoffs."
"This is our playoffs," Overton shot back.
And so it was. On a night that O'Neal rested a slightly sore knee and the Orlando Magic treated the contest as if it were an exhibition tune-up game, the Washington Bullets huffed and puffed and finally blew the Eastern Conference's best team down in overtime, 123-117, in front of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
If nothing else, it was something different because it came with the Bullets (20-60) down to eight healthy bodies. O'Neal's absence notwithstanding, the Bullets couldn't have won without some remarkable performances and they got them from several people. They also avoided a dubious record, at least for another day. With two games remaining, the Bullets have avoided their worst season since moving to Landover in 1973. With 60 losses, they remain tied with the 1992-93 Bullets, who went 22-60.
Point guard Doug Overton scored a career-high 30 points, handed out four assists and turned the ball over just twice in a 44-minute performance. Juwan Howard scored 27 points, and Chris Webber had his third triple-double of the season with 17 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. He also blocked three shots, including one on Dennis Scott that helped secure the victory in the final moments of overtime.
Don MacLean bounced out of a long, agonizing slump with 17 points, and Mitchell Butler hit the biggest shot of the night when he drilled a three-pointer with 1 minute 11 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Bullets a 119-115 lead.
The Magic (56-24), who've clinched home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs, almost won it even with O'Neal on the sidelines. Hardaway scored 12 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter as the Magic rallied from a 12-point deficit to tie it on Donald Royal's layup with 50 seconds remaining.
Orlando was going for the victory in the final seconds when Webber blocked a Horace Grant shot in the low post. Then Webber just missed scoring on a lob from Howard as time expired in regulation.
Oddly, the Magic never led. Grant's three-point play tied it at 115, with 2:24 left in overtime, and when Orlando had a chance to take the lead, a shot slipped out of Nick Anderson's hands. Howard put the Bullets ahead to stay with a foul shot with 1:39 left, and after Hardaway missed a three-point attempt, Butler sealed it with a three. Royal then missed for the Magic, and Overton scored the last of his 30 points on a drive to the basket with 34.6 seconds left.
Although the Magic had all but announced before the game that these final regular season contests would be nothing more than practice for the playoffs, the loss continued a disturbing trend for them: It was their 15th loss in 19 road games.
"We're still not executing the way we should," said Coach Brian Hill. "We should do a better job closing games out. Defensively, we gave up 68 points in the first half. . . . You want to play well, but the postseason is what concerns me."
The Bullets were almost out of players after Calbert Cheaney came down with tonsillitis and was sent home. Rex Chapman (abdominal pull) and Jim McIlvaine (ankle) remained sidelined, and just before game time the Bullets waived Anthony Tucker to avoid exposing him to the postseason expansion draft.
"I've never seen something like this," Howard said. "We've got to be the only team to win a game with eight guys. Give us credit. We didn't give up. Everyone played well."
After the game, Howard asked Coach Jim Lynam if a team had ever won with eight players. Lynam smiled and told him: "In the old days, they played with six."
But in getting down to the essentials, the Bullets left their locker room with a good feeling.
"Just have a lot of fun," Butler said. "I also think it makes everyone closer. You pull together and everyone watches your back. You go up in knowing everyone has to step it up, and if you don't, you're going to be embarrassed."
The victory was especially satisfying to Overton, who is hoping to prove that he should be brought back as the backup point guard next season. He seems to be forcing the Bullets to consider that, having averaged 14 points and six assists in the 17 games since Scott Skiles got hurt.
"I'm the type of guy that has to solidify my position every year," he said. "I got most of the points tonight in the flow of the game, and it just kept coming. We had a real good attitude about this game. We've lost so many games that there wasn't any pressure on us, either. I know Orlando didn't feel any."
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company