EAST RUTHERFORD,N.J. — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The fact that forward Bernard King scorched his New Jersey Nets for 38 points last night in leading the Washington Bullets to a 97-92 victory before an announced crowd of 6,103 hardly surprised coach Bill Fitch.
"Right now, Bernard is carrying the Bullets by himself, but he's earned everything he gets," said Fitch.
"I watched him work out all summer at our practice gym in New Jersey. He worked harder than any of our guys. But I like it, because anyone working with him will be embarrassed if he doesn't try to keep up with an aging superstar."
Last night when it counted, none of the Nets could keep up with the 33-year-old, who boosted his season scoring average to a league-leading 32.8 and scored 30 or more points in his fourth straight game.
King started off slowly, making only five of 13 shots in scoring 12 first-half points. But he took over the game in the second half, hitting eight straight shots in one torrid stretch as the Bullets broke away from a 53-53 tie to lead 81-72 after three quarters. King matched the Nets with 19 points in the third period.
It was a rare King miss in the closing minutes that set up the clinching basket.
After watching his starters fumble their way most of the night, Fitch turned to his bench, and Lester Conner and Derrick Gervin sparked a rally that reduced the deficit to 92-90 with 65 seconds left.
Everyone in the arena knew that the Bullets would now run a play for King, who was isolated on the right side of the floor. He dribbled and darted through two defenders, but missed a runner in the lane. However, forward Harvey Grant hustled for the rebound and tipped it home over a taller Sam Bowie.
"The Nets were paying so much attention to Bernard, I was able to sneak down the lane and get in position for the rebound," said Grant, who finished with a season-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bullets then made another big play on the defensive end. Newly acquired power forward Pervis Ellison, who was out of synch on offense (1-for-7), killed any hopes of a Nets comeback by rejecting successive shots by Derrick Coleman and Gervin to seal the Bullets' (2-3) first road victory while New Jersey slipped to 1-5.
"I want Pervis to be more assertive, and I've been yelling at him to look for his shot," said Unseld, "but he's still at a quandary as to what to do. He really didn't do much positive all night, but then he came through with those two clutch blocks."
Unseld also got solid efforts from point guard Darrell Walker, who grabbed 14 rebounds, and reserve forward Mark Alarie, who scored 11 points in 17 minutes.
But players in both dressing rooms spent the post-game sessions talking mostly about King's phenomenal play.
"He's in his prime just like he was for the Knicks," said Nets forward Chris Morris. "I tried my hardest to stop him, but he's a scoring machine."
With his offense still waiting for rehabilitating forward John bTC Williams and shooting guard Ledell Eackles, who ended his holdout yesterday, Unseld has made King his designated scorer.
"I'm going to keep going to him until the well runs dry," said Unseld.
King said he regarded his added offensive burden as "more of a responsibility" than any selfish motive to pad his scoring average.
"The way our situation is now, with John and Ledell missing and so many young players breaking in, this is what the coach wants me to do," he said.
Watching King do his thing was as much deja vu for Fitch as watching his Nets, who posted the NBA's worst record (17-65) last season, stumble to another loss.
"Up until tonight, I thought we were making progress," he said. "But this reminded me of how bad we were last year. Even our practices haven't been this bad.
"But we managed to hang around until the very end and have a chance to win. We just didn't make too many smart decisions and didn't work the ball inside."
One of the few bright spots was Coleman, the $15 million rookie making his first start. The former Syracuse All-American scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and looked like a force to be reckoned with.
"He still has a lot to learn as to what to look for in certain situations," said Unseld, "but he's got a big body and a lot of ability. He's going to be a player in this league."
Opponent: Charlotte Hornets
Site: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)
Outlook: The Bullets won both games with the Hornets last season and hold a 7-1 edge in their two-year series. Charlotte (2-4), last in the Central Division, has four new players: top draft pick G Kendall Gill of Illinois; C Steve Scheffler, a second-round choice from Purdue; F Randolph Keys, acquired from Cleveland, and free-agent F Johnny Newman, the ex-Knick. With veteran Kelly Tripucka and Newman both in shooting slumps, Hornets coach Gene Littles was considering starting Keys at small forward.