The Washington Bullets squandered opportunities and were unable to get rebounds or come up with loose balls when they were needed most tonight, and the New Jersey Nets beat them for the second time in eight days, 98-95, at Brendan Byrne Arena.
A crowd of 9,082, the smallest to see the Nets play here, was on hand.
The victory improved the Nets to 11-9. Washington (9-10) will play Denver Thursday night at Capital Centre at 8:10.
"Our problem is that we do okay as long as we have the ball and hold onto it," said Washington guard John Lucas, who had his best game of the season with 13 points and eight assists. "But we aren't doing the little things we have to do to make us better than a .500 team. We have to get the loose balls, make the free throws and hit those shots from half-court."
Lucas was referring to a half-court shot that Albert King made at the end of the first half that gave the Nets a 51-45 lead.
"That heave at halftime really hurt us," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "It was a very, very important shot. It came after a steal, too, so conceivably we could have gone in at halftime down by only one instead of by six."
It was the Nets' fifth straight victory, one short of the club record, and the second loss in eight games for the Bullets.
New Jersey, which won at Capital Centre Dec. 1, is the only team to beat the Bullets since they lost to Los Angeles Nov. 19.
Washington had its chances tonight and squandered nearly every one.
The Bullets trailed, 87-75, with 8:43 remaining, but Lucas led a comeback. He scored six points and had two assists in the next three minutes and the Bullets closed to 92-87.
A three-point shot from the right corner by Kevin Grevey cut the deficit to 94-92 with 3:25 remaining. They missed their last seven shots, however, including a three-point attempt by Grevey that would have tied the score with four seconds left.
A 16-footer by Otis Birdsong after Buck Williams got one of his season-high 20 rebounds gave the Nets a 96-92 lead. Two free throws by Jeff Ruland, who finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, cut the deficit to 96-94 with 1:34 left.
Williams missed a jumper on New Jersey's next possession, but blocked Frank Johnson's shot to get the ball back with 51 seconds to play.
The Nets got three offensive rebounds on their next possession before Ruland fouled Len Elmore. Elmore made the second of his two foul shots and the Nets led, 97-94, with 39 seconds to play.
Greg Ballard and Johnson missed shots for the Bullets and Williams fouled Mahorn going for a rebound. Mahorn, who missed three free throws in the final quarter and six in the game, made only the second of two shots to cut the margin to 97-95 with 22 seconds left.
The Bullets were forced to foul and Ruland grabbed Darwin Cook with 10 seconds remaining. Cook made the first shot but missed the second, and Mahorn rebounded.
Shue set a play calling for a three-point shot by Grevey, but his attempt from beyond the top of the key hit the left side of the glass.
Said Shue: "We had a lot of chances to win this game. The defense was good, but as usual, we do the wrong things at the wrong times and it hurts us.
"I didn't call any plays near the end because I thought we might do better by just getting into the flow. I was wrong. I probably should have called a play every time down the floor and we might have scored."