CHICAGO, NOV. 17 -- After trailing by as many as 26 points in the first half, the Washington Bullets rallied furiously but lost to the Chicago Bulls, 105-101, tonight.

Leading the NBA's Central Division with a 5-1 record, the Bulls are on the verge of becoming one of the league's best teams. They're also one of the youngest, a factor that almost cost them tonight. It took Michael Jordan's four foul shots in the last 10 seconds to provide them with enough of a cushion to hold on and avoid what would have been the team's second consecutive demoralizing loss.

Jordan, the NBA's leading scorer entering the game, led the Bulls with 26 points, and forward Charles Oakley, the league's leading rebounder, had 21 rebounds. Another all-star, guard Jeff Malone, led the visitors with 26 points. Bernard King had 23 and Moses Malone 22. The two teams will meet again Wednesday night at Capital Centre.

Moses Malone and King each scored 15 points in the second half. The Bullets also got a strong second half from John Williams (eight points, four rebounds in the last two quarters) and Frank Johnson (eight points).

As if the thought of losing a 26-point lead wasn't enough for the crowd of 17,081, the final minutes were filled with a number of improbable plays. The fact that most of them went in the Bulls' favor might have been more of a factor in the team's victory than anything else.

Down by 93-82 with six minutes remaining, the Bullets got within 97-92 with 2:55 left. Then the Bulls' Brad Sellers made a jumper that beat the 24-second clock by one tick. Bullets center Manute Bol recovered one of the points with a free throw, making the score 99-93 with 2:08 left, but the 7-foot-6 reserve was whistled for goaltending 26 seconds later.

Now it was Washington's turn to respond. King converted a three-point play, then Sellers missed two free throws with 50 seconds left. Fouled after the second miss, Moses Malone made two from the line to make the score 101-98.

With 24 seconds left, Washington did its best to sneak away with the win. A loose ball foul was called on Chicago center Dave Corzine, who clearly climbed over Bol's back. By the time the teams had walked back to the other end of the floor though, Jeff Malone stepped up to the line. Referees Mike Mathis and Ken Mauer, however, caught the ploy. Moses Malone, a 90 percent foul shooter, stepped to the line instead of Bol, who had only shot two free throws all season.

Despite protestations from the Bulls, and ignoring the sight of Johnson nearly shoving Bol into the Bullets' bench, the referees allowed Malone to shoot. He made his first shot but missed the second, making the score 101-99 and setting up Jordan's parade to the foul line.

"I figured we had them but I missed a big free throw," said Moses Malone. "I thought I should have made it; we'll just have to get them tomorrow."

That's not going to happen unless the Bullets realize that basketball is a 48-minute proposition, not a 24.

"Maybe in another minute or so we would have won it, but it doesn't work like that," said Jeff Malone. "You can't get down 24 points and expect to win against anybody."

The Bullets were already trailing by 32-22 after the first period, largely because of Chicago's 65 percent field goal shooting. Trailing by 38-30 with 9:30 left in the half, Washington fell prey to an 18-2 run that upped the Bulls' lead to 56-32 with 4:03 left. Chicago's lead would reach 64-38, with the team settling for a 64-40 halftime advantage and a 60 percent mark from the field.

"They shot the lights out in the first half but a bit of that was us not guarding anybody," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "It's an easy game when you're out there shooting H-O-R-S-E."

That certainly changed in the last two periods when Washington improved its defense as well as its shooting percentage, going from 37 percent in the first half to 65 in the second. For many here, the change of momentum was reminiscent of the Bulls' only loss this season, when the Indiana Pacers overcame a four-point deficit with four seconds to play here last Saturday.

In fact, an almost identical situation was set up tonight. Jordan's first two foul shots made it 103-99 with 10 seconds left but Johnson drove to the basket for a score with four seconds to play. Against Indiana, Chicago threw the ball away trying to inbound from its base line. Tonight, the team called a timeout and moved the basketball to midcourt, where they were able to get it to Jordan for the game's final points.

In Salt Lake City, the Jazz beat the Nuggets, 120-110, Mark Eaton getting 25 rebounds and blocking seven shots for the winners. In East Rutherford, N.J., the Nets beat the Rockets, 114-111, with Orlando Woolridge scoring 29 points. In Milwaukee, the Bucks beat the Warriors, 120-108, on Terry Cummings' 33 points. The Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, 142-115, in Inglewood, Calif., and the Spurs beat the Clippers, 122-121, in an overtime game in San Antonio. In Sacramento, Calif., Reggie Miller scored 16 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to help the Pacers defeat the Kings, 126-111.