The Washington Bullets couldn't hold a 16-point lead in the third period tonight and fell to the Portland Trail Blazers, 93-89.

For three quarters, Portland couldn't make a layup and the visitors had no need to. Thanks to fine outside shooting, the Bullets took a 16-point lead in the third period. But it turned to dust, despite Jeff Malone's 18 points, and the loss was the Bullets' seventh straight away from Capital Centre.

The Trail Blazers have won four in a row. Mychal Thompson brought them within a point with 3:03 left, then blocked Cliff Robinson's jump shot and scored the go-ahead basket with 2:20 left. He led Portland with 21 points.

"I thought we played very well in the first half and controlled the tempo," Coach Gene Shue of the Bullets said, "but our shot selection went to seed in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, it was one thing after another. We just did not make the plays when we had to.

"One thing is gratifying; we played a lot better here than we played in Seattle. That gives us some hope for this long trip. Next stop, Golden State."

The Bullets began strongly at the Coliseum, one of the toughest places for visitors to win. They made five of seven shots in taking a 10-6 lead, then extended it to 17-10 on Malone's third basket of the game at 6:19. They got a break a short time later when Portland's Jim Paxson committed his third foul.

At least they thought it would be a break. Instead, the Trail Blazers surged ahead at 20-18 lead on Thompson's offensive rebound with 2:25 left in the period. The Bullets answered with Gus Williams' two jumpers to regain the lead, 22-20. Both teams maintained a furious pace, the first period ending at 22-22.

Robinson scored the first two baskets of the second quarter and when those were followed by another score by Malone and a basket by Guy Williams, the Bullets had eight straight points and a 30-22 lead.

After a timeout, Portland misfired on four straight shots but the Bullets could only come up with a basket by Malone. The Trail Blazers finally got two free throws by Thompson, but that was quickly offset by Guy Williams' jumper and it was 34-24, Washington.

Portland didn't score a field goal until the 7:32 mark on Paxson's jump shot. The basket was followed two minutes later by Jerome Kersey's layup to make the score 34-28. After that the visitors scored six straight points, four by Malone and two by Robinson, giving Portland cause to take another timeout with 4:26 left in the half.

Besides facing a strong defense, the Trail Blazers shot poorly. In the first eight minutes of the second quarter, they made two of 13 from the field, missing several layups and tip-ins. To try to change their luck, they tried a half-court trap after the timeout. It worked. The Bullets either turned the ball over or took hurried, poor shots. Portland scored five straight points to cut the deficit to 42-33.

The Bullets came back to outscore Portland by 8-6 for the rest of the half, taking a 50-39 lead into the locker room at intermission.

The Trail Blazers shot 34 percent from the field in the first two quarters and continued to have trouble in the third. With 9:15 to play, Washington had a 56-42 lead, Malone, Greg Ballard and Tom McMillen scoring on jump shots.

But after Malone scored another basket, Portland made its strongest run of the game, outscoring Washington by 12-6 to make the score 64-54 with 5:24 to play in the period. Paxson, who had committed his fourth foul earlier in the quarter, was instrumental in the run, scoring eight of the points.

Thompson stole Robinson's pass, which led to Sam Bowie's layup. When Darnell Valentine scored on the Trail Blazers' next possession, it was 64-58, Bullets. Ballard and McMillen scored for the Bullets, but the Trail Blazers cut it to 72-67 after three quarters.

Bowie, held to six points, had a career-high 20 rebounds.