David Thompson and George Johnson each made two free throws in the final 17 seconds last night to end the Denver Nuggets to a 96-91 victory over the troubled Washington Bullets.
The Bullets looked disorganized and inept most of the night, but some weird shot selection by the Nuggets in the final quarter allowed the Bullets to make the game close. In fact, the Bullets had more than one opportunity perhaps to even win the game. But instead, they dropped their third game in four tries and fell a game below .500.
Their road doesn't get any easier, either as they have to face the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at the Spectrum.
A Capital Centre crowd of 11,123 took to booing the home team in the early going as the Bullets looked and played as if they wished they were someplace else.
"We started out like we thought we were in Denver and the altitude was bothering us," coach Dick Motta said.
But Bullets got down, 6-0, and stayed down until the final minutes.
A missed Bob Dandridge free throw with 22 seconds remaining, a botched jump ball with 19 seconds left and a missed three-point shot with eight seconds left spelled doom for the Bullets.
The Bullets were down by 13 points early in the fourth period, but cut the Denver advantage to 92-90 on an Elvin Hayes layup with 1:25 left.
The score was unchanged when Dandridge drove to the basket with 19 seconds to play and was fouled by George McGinnis. Dandridge made the first of two free throws to cut the deficit to one, 92-91, but his second shot missed. Hayes and Denver's Bob Wilkerson battled for the rebound and a jump ball was called.
Wilkerson controlled the tap and got the ball to Thompson, who outwrestled Roger Phegley.
Phegley then was called for a back-court foul and Thompson converted two free throws for a 94-91 Denver lead with 17 seconds left.
The Bullets called a timeout with the idea of trying a three-point shot to tie the game. They got the shot and their best three-point shooter Greg Ballard, took it, but it was short from the corner. Johnson grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Larry Wright. Johnson made two free throws for the margin of victory.
"I don't know what happened on the jump ball, but I just knew we were going to control it," Motta said. "It never even entered my mind that we wouldn't get the ball."
The three-point shot attempt by Ballard was the first time this season the Bullets have gone for the three-pointer as a game-winner.
Ballard, who had made five of seven three-point shots before last night, launched his shot from the corner, but it never got over the rim.
"I wanted to make sure I was behind the three-point line and I looked down and didn't get my feet set before I shot it," Ballard said. "It threw my rhythm off."
The Bullets' rhythm appeared to be off most of the night.
"We didn't execute our offense," Motta said. "We are a power team and if our forwards don't get the ball down low, we are wasting a lot of expensive talent."
The Bullets guards had a very difficult time and Motta tried several combinations to try to find one that worked. A Gus Bailey-Larry Wright and a Bailey-Phegley combination seemed to work best.
Kevin Porter was terribly ineffective as he made only two of seven shots and had a season-low one assist. He also was lost defensively. His starting guard mate, Phil Chenier, went 0-7 and also appeared lost on defense.
The Nuggets, who now are 9-15, had seven players in double figures, led by Thompson's 17 points.
McGinnis scored only 12 points on four-for-14 shooting, but he had 16 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals.
Hayes sprained his ankle late in the game, but is expected to play against the 76ers tonight.
The game will be televised on WDCA-TV-20 at 8 p.m.