The idea, according to Coach Kevin Loughery, was for newly acquired forward Bernard King to play "a few minutes" in last night's NBA exhibition game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, 33 points can get one a lot of playing time and that's what King scored in his Washington debut to lead the Bullets to a 113-110 victory at George Mason's Patriot Center.
"It was totally up to him," said Loughery after the treat for 2,210 fans. "I asked him five or six times over the course of the game how he felt. I could have expected the answer -- maybe I shouldn't have asked. He's just a basketball player."
King played 36 minutes and hit 12 of 18 shots from the floor and nine of 11 from the free throw line. He initially entered with 6:52 remaining in the opening quarter and proceeded to hit his first two shots en route to 13 first-half points. The 10th-year veteran with the reconstructed knee posted another 13 in the third quarter, and nine in the fourth before Tyrone Bogues provided the game winners.
"I felt relatively comfortable out there," said King. "We worked out this morning; I didn't know how I would respond tonight in terms of being winded. I think I did okay."
When starter John Williams picked up his fourth personal foul less than three minutes into the final period, King returned and played to the finish.
This was the Bullets' second consecutive victory, ending their preseason with a 2-5 record. Besides building momentum for the start of the regular season on Friday in Atlanta, there were any number of good things to be seen in last night's game.
The rookie Bogues hit two free throws with 20 seconds remaining to break a 108-108 tie. After a Cleveland timeout, the 5-foot-3 guard stole the inbounds pass and went the length of the floor for a layup.
Cleveland, which was led by guard Ron Harper's 28 points, came back with a jumper by Mark Price with 11 seconds left. Washington called two full timeouts and then a 20-second break before finally inbounding the ball to Moses Malone. The all-star center added the last of his 20 points on one of two free throws with nine seconds left. A final three-point attempt by Harper missed.
Playing King, Malone, Bogues (13 points, 12 assists), Manute Bol (eight blocked shots) and Dale Blaney replacing Jeff Malone (who missed the contest because of bronchitis), the final six minutes of the game were close to dreamlike for the Bullets.
King showed many of the moves he demonstrated during his preinjury 1984-85 season when he led the NBA in scoring. Filling the left wing on one break, the forward dribbled through his legs into the lane, eluding a pair of Cavaliers for a layup.
Moses Malone, who earlier in the game gave up solid position in the low post to let King work one-on-one, combined with Bol to control the backboards in the late going, allowing Bogues the chance to move out on the fast break.
Even so, Cleveland, playing without second-year sensations Brad Daugherty and John Williams, led with three minutes left, 104-103. Then Bol blocked a shot by Harper, which led to a Bogues to King to Malone fast break -- the center hitting a pair of free throws after being fouled while shooting. In the next sequence, Bol blocked another shot, again retrieved by Bogues. This time the rookie hit King streaking upcourt for an easy layup.
Despite their many successes, Loughery remained concerned about the Bullets' deficiencies on the backboards. Even without their two front-court stars, the Cavaliers held a 40-37 rebounding advantage.
"We're just not rebounding well enough," he said. "That's my biggest concern about this team. Moses and Manute played well together and I'm thinking more and more about going in that direction."
It would seem that it won't take much longer for the coach to go in King's direction, either, judging from the veteran's effort last night.
"This was something that I've been looking forward to," King said. "I'm elated at how things worked out -- but it's only a beginning, though."