Once again missed foul shots in the closing minutes cost the Bullets a much-needed victory.
A couple of misses let New Jersey come from behind for a double-overtime victory Tuesday. Tonight, two misses were the difference in a 127-126 loss to Denver.
Greg Ballard's miss kept the Bullets from tying the game with 2:46 left. When Frank Johnson failed to covert a chance for a three-point play after putting the Bullets in front, 126-125, with 35 seconds to play, the Nuggets went ahead for good on Kiki Vandeweghe's spinning drive with 29 seconds to play.
The Bullets still had plenty of time to regain the lead, but the play, intended for Greg Ballard, never came off. When Johnson drove the lane in desperation, his shot was blocked by guard T.R. Dunn, an excellent defensive player.
"We wanted to go to Greg--that was our first option--but he went too far across the lane and it took him too long to come back around the screen," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "The second option was to go to (Jeff) Ruland down low, but the ball never got there.
"We're just a little bit away," the coach continued. "I was pleased with our effort. We came back at the end, but, for us, everything has to be perfect for a play to work."
The Bullets lost to Denver for the second time this season despite another strong offensive effort by Spencer Haywood, who led all scorers with 27 points. Kevin Grevey and Ballard each scored 23 and Jeff Ruland added 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bullets trailed for most of the third quarter, but went ahead on three different occasions early in the fourth period. Tthe last time was at 98-96 on a three-point play by Ruland, who was getting all his points on offensive rebounds.
The score was tied twice more before the Nuggets ran off six straight points to take a 106-100 lead. With Haywood scoring six points, four from the foul line, the Bullets cut the margin to 114-112. After David Thompson's jumper, Johnson made a three-point play to bring the Bullets within a point.
Ballard missed a free throw, but he made a layup and a jumper from the side to keep his team within a point. His 17-footer gave the Bullets a 124-123 edge with 55 seconds remaining.
Billy McKinney, a reserve with a 9.7 scoring average, then made his third straight jumper to put the Nuggets back on top. Johnson countered with his drive up the middle, but couldn't make the free throw.
McKinney, a four-year veteran from Northwestern, made nine of 11 shots and had 14 of his 18 points in the second half. Thompson, another substitute, contributed 21 points.
"We got a big lift from our bench," said Denver Coach Doug Moe. "Billy and David were playing well, so I left them in at the end. I thought we could break it open in the second half, but Ruland really hurt us on the offensive boards."
Ruland had 14 rebounds, six offensive, and seven assists while playing 30 minutes. Center Rick Mahorn, still favoring his sore ankle, was called for three fouls in the first five minutes and played only 10 minutes.
"It's still bothering me," Mahorn said, but added that he would try to play Saturday night at Utah (9:30, WDCA-TV-20), where the Bullets will complete this short trip.
In other NBA games, Julius Erving's 22 points helped the 76ers beat visiting Atlanta, 89-80. In Chicago, Darwin Cook had 19 points as New Jersey overtook the Bulls 107-90. In Phoenix, Alvin Adams scored 26 points to lead the Suns to a 110-98 victory over Kansas City. In Houston, Cedric Maxwell scored 24 points and Boston rallied to defeat Hoston 100-98.
On the West Coast, Seattle edged visiting Dallas, 98-97; Golden State won at San Diego,117-116, and Cleveland won at Portland, 111-110.