New Jersey Coach Larry Brown warned Gene Shue what was going to happen before the game ever started.
"Albert King is shooting so poorly the other teams aren't even guarding him," Brown told the Bullets' coach. "They just drop way off him. But as soon as he sees the Bullets I know he's going to light up."
Not only did King light up, but the former Maryland star singed the Bullets in the process. He had 24 points, a career-high 14 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals as the Nets beat the Bullets for the third time this month, 97-90, tonight at Byrne Meadowlands Arena.
The defeat, which ended the Bullets' four-game winning streak, was only their fourth in 15 games. Three have come against the Nets.
"Believe me, we will beat the Nets," said Shue.
Maybe next time.
Despite King's play, it was guard Foots Walker who ensured the victory. With Walker scoring seven of his team's final eight points, the Nets held the Bullets scoreless for the last 2 minutes 11 seconds and scored the night's last eight points.
Walker finished with 13 points.
King made back-to-back 17-footers to give the Nets an 85-75 lead with 7:33 remaining, but the Bullets scored 13 straight points to regain the lead at 88-85 with three minutes to play. Rick Mahorn had four points and Jeff Ruland three.
The Nets looked like they were ready to fold. They missed 11 straight shots and turned over the ball four times in that span.
They finally scored when King made another long jumper. Mickey Johnson, who finished with 20 points, made two free throws for an 89-88 New Jersey lead with 2:24 left, but Ruland put the Bullets ahead, 90-89, with a layup 10 seconds later.
The Bullets never scored again.
Walker made one of two free throws after Greg Ballard fouled him. After Ballard threw the ball away on the Bullets' next possession, Walker was fouled by Don Collins and made two more free throws.
Kevin Porter lost the ball out of bounds the next time the Bullets had it, and Walker converted that turnover into a 12-foot jumper and a 94-90 lead.
Ruland missed a layup, Porter had a shot blocked by King and Ballard, who finished with 22 points, missed a three-point attempt on the Bullets' next three possessions. Meanwhile, the Nets got a free throw from Darwin Cook and two more from Walker.
"We just couldn't get the job done," said Shue. "We had a lot of opportunities, but we struggled along with the competition. We just don't have any explosiveness. New Jersey didn't play all that well, but we were just hanging around."
In the four games before tonight, King had made 19 of 60 shots (32 percent), but said he didn't think about the slump once the game started.
"I just went out and played hard," said King, who made 11 of 21 shots from the field. "I don't know why I play so good against Washington. It's just fun playing against the Bullets and I like to beat them."
King is averaging 18.5 points in four games against the Bullets this season. Fortunately, the Bullets won't see King or the Nets again until March 30.
The Nets made a major lineup change before the game, benching their second-leading scorer, Otis Birdsong, in favor of converted forward Mike O'Koren at shooting guard. O'Koren scored six points in 19 minutes, Birdsong four in 20 minutes.
The Bullets tried to take advantage of that move right away by pressuring O'Koren every time he handled the ball. Collins went right at him the first three times the Bullets had the ball and scored six of their first 12 points. The Bullets moved to a quick seven-point lead, but couldn't put away the home team.
The Bullets next play at Capital Centre against the Atlanta Hawks Christmas night.