Everything electrical surprisingly worked to perfection at the Baltimore Arena last night, but the New Jersey Nets short-circuited the Bullets offense for most of the second half and cruised to a deceptively close 109-101 victory before a sellout crowd of 12,346.
It was certainly better than the embarrassing 45-point blowout the Bullets suffered in New Jersey last Saturday, but the Nets (21-15) only seemed to be biding their time before demonstrating their superiority.
Led by Derrick Coleman (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Drazen Petrovic (27 points), the Nets led 94-80 before the Bullets (11-24) mounted a futile rally.
They closed to 99-94 on a three-point play by Pervis Ellison (28 points) with 62 seconds remaining, but Petrovic countered with two free throws.
Rex Chapman hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 101-97, but the Nets used the foul line in the final minute to assure their fourth straight victory.
After being one of the jokes of the league for the past decade, it just might be time to start taking the Nets as a serious contender in the Eastern Conference.
They exhibited excellent floor balance against the Bullets, with all five starters scoring in double figures.
"They have the whole package now," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said, "and [Nets coach] Chuck Daly has done a good job of keeping them focused.
"They have an excellent outside shooter in Petrovic, a point guard who can penetrate and dish in Kenny Anderson (18 points, seven assists), and two big guys in Coleman and Sam Bowie who can burn you inside and outside. It makes it very difficult to try and double any of them."
This was particularly true in the third quarter, when the Nets, after trailing 49-48 at halftime, outscored the Bullets 29-19 to take command.
If Petrovic wasn't scorching the nets from outside, Coleman and Chris Morris were working free underneath for uncontested baskets.
"We've really moved the ball well the last three games," said Petrovic, bidding for an All-Star berth. "We kept finding the open man and then making our shots."
Defensively, the backcourt combination of Petrovic and Anderson has always been considered extremely vulnerable. But the lack of ball movement by the Bullets made it easy for the Nets to force Washington into taking low-percentage shots.
"Our offense got real stagnant in the third quarter, almost lazy," said rookie forward Tom Gugliotta, who was limited to nine points on six shots and was benched in favor of Larry Stewart in the fourth quarter.
This ragged play did not escape Unseld's notice.
"What bothered me most about the third quarter was all our unforced errors," the coach said. "I think the stat crew was very liberal in giving us only four turnovers in the quarter.
"We moved the ball, but we just made bad decisions on our shot selection. And whenever there was a loose ball, the Nets always seemed to get there first."
Point guard Michael Adams started for the Bullets, but was never a factor. He seemed so concerned with stopping Anderson, he (( managed only five points and three assists in 24 minutes.
Brent Price matched his longest stint of the season and contributed 10 points and three assists in 24 minutes off the bench. He had a chance to audition for the backup playmaking role in the absence of Doug Overton, who will undergo surgery to repair a fractured thumb.
Price joined Ellison and Stewart in leading the Bullets' late rally, but the Nets never panicked.
As Bowie said: "The way we're playing now is a lot of fun. What a difference from when we were 17-65 [1989-90]."
The Nets' Coleman and Ellison took turns showing off their pivot moves, producing a 26 tie at the end of one quarter.
Reserve forward Buck Johnson came off the Bullets bench to start the second quarter and hit two straight shots to reclaim the lead, 30-28.
Both teams struggled to score during the next three minutes as the defense stiffened and shots were forced.
Daly returned to his starters, and a baseline slam by Coleman put the Nets ahead, 38-36.
Gugliotta and Anderson exhibited their passing skills to set up baskets on opposite ends of the court. Coleman's slam off an Anderson feed kept the Nets in front, 48-44.
The Bullets began trapping on defense and forced several turnovers. They closed the second quarter with five straight points to gain a 49-48 halftime edge.
The first-half statistics were remarkably similar. Both teams were 22-for-39 from the field for 56.4 percent, but the Bullets converted one more of their six free throws to provide the difference. Ellison led the Bullets with 14 points and five rebounds. Petrovic had 10 points to lead the Nets.
Washington's offense turned stagnant at the start of the second half as it struggled to get shots off to beat the 24-second clock. The Nets showed superior ball movement and pulled ahead, 59-53, on five straight points by Coleman.
The only good thing that happened for the Bullets was getting to shoot bonus free throws with six minutes left in the third period.
A breakaway layup by Adams pulled Washington to 61-58. But the Nets, led by Coleman and Morris, went on a 10-2 run to pad their lead to 71-60.
After three quarters, the Nets led 77-68.
It quickly grew worse for the Bullets. The Nets opened the last quarter with hoops by Petrovic and recently acquired Maurice Cheeks for an 81-70 advantage.
Petrovic pumped home two more baskets, and the Nets had their biggest lead at 87-72.
Washington tried trapping again, but it backfired with New Jersey getting open shots. A three-point play by Coleman made it 94-80 with sixminutes left.