King reaching rarefied scoring air of a Jordan

January 11, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff Staff writer Ken Rosenthal contributed to this story.

LANDOVER -- Bernard King loves performing the same moves over and over, seemingly daring someone to stop him.

Last night, like every other night this season, no one could. But then this is a new Bernard King.

He scores any time, any where, with a master's touch.

Last night, he touched the stars, reaching the top of the NBA scoring charts, as his 45 points lifted his average above Michael Jordan's 30.8 per game.

That performance, combined with a season-high 34 points from Harvey Grant, assured the Washington Bullets of a 122-110 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers and moved them into third place in the Atlantic Division. It also left Clippers forward Ken Norman with a major headache.

"I'd rather guard Jordan than Bernard King," Norman said. "With Jordan, you get help. With Bernard, he is going to catch it and control it before you have time to double team . . . and when he comes off a screen, well, a couple times I wanted to ask him does he ever miss."

The answer is not much. Last night, King was 18 of 30 from the floor, including two of three from three-point range. In the last five games, he has shot 55.9 percent from the field and averaged 36.6 points.

The man is 34 years old. He was supposedly washed up three years ago, when the Bullets took a chance on him after major knee surgery.

"Imagine what he'd be like with two healthy knees," said Grant.

No NBA defender wants to.

As for King, he just goes out every night and almost effortlessly turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. And then he sits back and asks what all the commotion is about.

"I think it's about time people understand, recognize, that the comeback is over," said King. "It's been over for two years. It's just that now I'm scoring more points."

And as King says, nothing just happens to him or his game by accident.

"I'm not surprised by anything I've done this season, I've worked hard to make these things happen," he said. "Did I plan it? In a sense, I can say I planned it to some extent, in that I knew Jeff [Malone, the team's leading scorer last season] was gone and teams were going to pressure me a great deal more than in the past.

"I knew if I was going to have to get all my points 10 feet from the basket, it was going to be a very difficult year. By improving my outside shot, I felt it would help."

He makes it all sound so simple. Define a problem, improve a shot, pick up the game just a little.

The man has scored a Capital Centre and team-record 52 points this season. He has scored more than 30 points 18 times, more than 40 points seven times.

Just a little more.

Ten years ago, Bernard King played only in the paint. He could post-up anyone.

But now he is something else. Something more than he ever was as a 24-year-old.

He is an inside, outside player. Stop him one way, he'll go another. There are spots on the floor where it is almost pre-ordained that King will go up for a jumper, regardless of how many players are guarding him.

"The most irritating and depressing thing about Bernard," Philadelphia guard Hersey Hawkins said, "is that he treats a double-team like you're not even there."

Bernard King calculates everything. And everything is done with precision: everything from making sure he has a handful of rosin NTC before heading to the court, to wiping his shoes on the rosin strip in front of the scorer's table at check in, to the perfect fall after the perfect acrobatic leap.

And he came to training camp in better shape than he finished the previous season.

Seven days a week for nearly five months in the offseason he worked: 2 1/2 hours with a conditioning coach in the gym, another 45 minutes on a tread mill, more time, "a lot of time" with leg weights. Every day.

"I wanted to come to camp in better shape than other guys would start the season in," King said. "I thought if I started out in better shape, if fatigue comes, I'll still be ahead of where other guys are."

But he is not thinking of fatigue. He has no time for other people's perceptions or doubts.

"I can be better than this," he said, his brown eyes wide and direct.

It is said a 34-year-old has never done the things Bernard King is doing, but King says no one should be judged by another's standards.

"You can always be better," King said, refusing to admit he is at the top echelon of the game. "I never feel I'm at the level I want to be. If I did, I'd never reach the next level and I'll never reach the level I set for myself, because I keep raising it."

Maybe Ken Norman understood that last night, as King hit jump shots, slams, reverse layups and even a running shot thrown back over his head.

"People always count people out [when something bad happens to them]," said Norman. "But no one knows what's inside a person's heart. Bernard King obviously has a great big heart."

Precisely.

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