LANDOVER -- Bernard King has scored more points and played in bigger games as a professional, but the veteran forward will put last night's brilliant performance against the Chicago Bulls in a special place in his memory.
Carrying a young, undermanned Bullets team that was posted as a 100,000-1 shot to win the National Basketball Association title, King scored 44 points to lead Washington to an improbable 103-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls in their home opener.
A capacity crowd of 18,756 was attracted mainly by Michael Jordan's presence. But King stole the spotlight, scoring the Bullets' last 10 points and 18 of their last 24.
Jordan, who has always had problems scoring at the Capital Centre, finished with 28 points. Still, he had a chance to win it in the closing seconds, but his soaring layup was rejected cleanly by Harvey Grant.
When the final buzzer sounded, it set off a wild celebration by the Bullets (1-1).
The Bulls, regarded as Detroit's chief challenger for the Eastern Conference crown, are 0-2.
The Bulls, who lost to eventual champion Detroit in a seven-game Eastern Conference final, strengthened their bench by adding guard Dennis Hopson and forward Cliff Levingston. But coach Phil Jackson stuck with his familiar starting five of Jordan and John Paxson in the backcourt, Bill Cartwright at center and Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen at the forwards.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld was still patching his starting lineup together due to center/forward Pervis Ellison's tender ankle and point guard Darrell Walker's nagging heel problem.
For the second straight game, Unseld started free agents Haywoode Workman and Larry Robinson in his backcourt. King, Charles Jones and Harvey Grant formed the front line.
Ellison made his Washington debut at the five-minute mark of the first quarter with Chicago leading, 8-6. A minute later, he had two personal fouls. He also had two of his first three shots rejected.
After three minutes of action, Ellison was benched with three fouls. Hopson replaced Paxson and hit two jumpers to give the Bulls a 17-12 cushion.
Jordan could not find his shooting rhythm, but the Bulls capitalized on turnovers and Horace Grant's inside scoring to move ahead, 26-18. Walker then joined King in leading a 6-2 run to cut Chicago's advantage to 28-24 after one quarter. King led all scorers with 12 points. The Bullets hit only seven of 19 shots for 37 percent. The Bulls were 10 for 22 for 45 percent.
Rookie A.J. English brought the Bullets to life at the start of the second quarter. He scored on a drive through the lane, fed Mark Alarie for a layup and then made a flying dunk to tie the game at 30.
But Chicago regained control. By posting up the smaller Bullets, the Bulls drew a number of quick fouls and began shooting the bonus with more than seven minutes left in the half.
Jordan then took over the offense. Using a variety of acrobatic driving shots, he scored nine points to give the visitors a 43-34 cushion. After a three-point play by King cut it to 45-39, Jordan ignited the crowd with a baseline dunk.
The Bullets kept it close, but were hampered by missing nine of their first 26 free throws. Craig Hodges beat the buzzer with a three-pointer to boost Chicago's spread to 60-51 at halftime.
After his slow start, Jordan finished with 16 first-half points. King had 20 for the Bullets, but made only five of 13 field-goal attempts.
Washington closed to 60-55 in the opening minute of the second half, but the Bulls countered with six straight points, four by Pippen.
The Bullets then mounted a spirited comeback, crashing the boards and igniting a fast break that reduced the deficit to 66-64. King made a court-length pass to Grant for a layup to conclude the run, prompting the Bulls to call timeout.
Both teams then struggled to score, but Pippen went to the bench with his fifth foul midway through the third period.
The Bullets failed to score, while two baskets by Jordan boosted the Bulls' lead to 72-66. Chicago also struggled to put a streak together, and two free throws by Alarie pulled the Bullets within 72-70.
The game turned into a free-throw shooting contest. A tip-in by Alarie gave Washington a brief 79-78 edge, but Hodges made L LTC 35-footer to recapture the lead for the Bulls, 81-79, after three quarters.
The Bullets bounced back on top, 85-81, early in the fourth quarter on baskets by King and Robinson. Jordan and King began matching shots, but it was another baseline jumper by Robinson that provided the home team with a 91-85 edge.
Hodges cut the lead in half with his third three-point shot. But King kept swishing 20-footers to keep the Bullets in front, 95-90. Jordan answered with a slam off a lob pass by Hodges.
Benefiting from a deliberate foul call by referee Ed Middleton, the Bulls ran off five in a row to tie it at 95 only to have King make two straight jumpers for a 99-95 lead with five minutes remaining.