LANDOVER -- The New York Knicks and their demanding coach, Pat Riley, discovered last night that, sometimes, practice does not make for perfect basketball.
Barred from working out before their game with the Washington Bullets because of holding an illegal scrimmage on New Year's Day, the Knicks played clinic-like basketball for 30 minutes to gain a 21-point lead and survived a fourth-quarter rally to post a 113-99 victory.
Former Georgetown All-American Patrick Ewing treated a Capital Centre sellout crowd of 18,756 to a 24-point, 19-rebound performance.
But the 7-foot center got strong support from point guard Mark Jackson (20 points, nine assists), reserve guard John Starks (20 points) and substitute forward Anthony Mason (10 points, 10 rebounds) as the Knicks (19-9) increased their Atlantic Division lead to 1 1/2 games over the Boston Celtics.
The Bullets, who had won three straight and six of their previous seven, dropped to 12-19 and have won only four of 14 games at home.
After spotting the Knicks an 80-59 lead early in the third quarter, they rallied behind the shooting of point guard Michael Adams (23 points, 10 rebounds) and reserve guard A. J. English to close to 97-91 with slightly more than 5 minutes remaining.
But a layup by Ewing and two free throws by Mason, a free agent from the Continental Basketball Association, built New York's lead back to 10 points.
Washington never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
"In the first half, we played as well as we have all season," said Riley, hired this year to restore order and success to a sagging franchise. "We've been getting away from fundamentals, particularly with our passing. But tonight, we made the right decisions, found the open man and made the critical defensive stops after they made it close."
A trimmed-down Jackson directed the Knicks to 24 points on first-half fast-break opportunities.
But New York was just as effective in its half-court game, using ball movement to free Ewing and Xavier McDaniel inside or Gerald Wilkins and Starks on the perimeter.
"They really got after us on defense and turned a lot of transition situations into easy baskets," said Bullets center Pervis Ellison, held to 17 points in his first matchup of the season with Ewing after scoring 31 against the New Jersey Nets on Friday night. "We were trying to force each of their guys to beat us, but all of the Knicks were hitting their shots tonight."
All five Bullets starters scored in double figures, with rookie forward Larry Stewart (Coppin State) impressing Riley with a 20-point, nine-rebound effort.
But the Bullets simply dug themselves too deep a hole against the Knicks, who finished with a 60-48 advantage on the boards.
The Jackson-Adams matchup proved the most critical, with the Knicks playmaker holding his Bullets counterpart to two points in the first half on 1-for-8 shooting from the field.
"I just tried to keep Michael in front of me," Jackson said. "He's a real tough player, and you know he's going to explode sooner or later. But most of his points came tonight after we had got ourselves a nice cushion.
"On offense, I was just looking to create something. I wanted to get back to where we were before we lost at home to San Antonio and Cleveland."
The Knicks are playing much sounder defense under Riley, who has all but phased out forwards Kiki Vandeweghe and Brian Quinnett, giving those minutes to the more mobile Mason, who gives the Knicks more rebounding.
The smaller Bullets were worn down in the end, and now have to face the defending champion Chicago Bulls on the road Tuesday night.