Attempting to shake up a new team that's failed to live up to advance billing, the Washington Bullets returned to a relatively tried and true lineup to start last night's game against the Seattle SuperSonics at Capital Centre.

The results were pretty much the same, however, as a scoring drought in the final period spelled a 115-99 defeat for the home side with 11,604 in attendance.

The Bullets began their drop to 4-11 and a third straight loss with about 8:40 remaining in the game. At that time the score was tied at 85-85.

Seattle scored four points before Washington center Moses Malone hit a driving layup with 5:13 to play. That was the Bullets' last field goal until Frank Johnson made a layup with 1:42 left.

By then the score was 105-93, SuperSonics. The Bullets made just two baskets in the first 10 minutes of the final quarter.

The SuperSonics, who improved their record to 8-8, were led by forward Xavier McDaniel's 26 points. Bernard King, after being replaced by Terry Catledge in the Bullets' starting lineup, came on as a substitute to lead Washington with 23.

"This was the most disappointing loss we've had all season -- by far," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "The Boston loss {a 140-139 double overtime defeat on Nov. 7} was tough but we performed well.

"This game we didn't score for eight minutes . . . We had a six- or seven-point lead; after that it was ungodly. We only got something like five baskets total in the fourth quarter, and three of them came after the game was out of reach."

The game could serve as vindication to basketball coaches everywhere who constantly preach that it's not which players start the game but which ones finish it. Loughery said he made the move from King to Catledge to get more scoring in the team's second unit, as well as reunite Catledge with center Moses Malone and forward Charles Jones -- the trio that started in the front court in most of Washington's games last season.

The fact that the switch gave Moses Malone (21 points) more room to operate in the low post and the fact that Catledge is a better rebounder than King had to be at least secondary considerations. Whatever the rationale, Loughery almost came away looking like a genius.

Washington led, 54-52, at halftime. And Malone, who, following a Thursday night loss to Atlanta, had insisted he had to play a bigger role in the Bullets' offense, had scored 13 points and King had provided 12.

In the third quarter, King scored Washington's final 10 points and the Bullets took an 82-76 advantage into the final 12 minutes.

At that point, though, Seattle got a lift from one of its reserves, forward Russ Schoene.

Averaging just 5.9 points entering the game, Schoene hit a three-point jumper to cut the Bullets' lead in half and tossed in another jumper to tie the game at 83 with 9:49 left.

Seattle's Kevin Williams and Bullets guard Jeff Malone exchanged jumpers but McDaniel scored from the right base line and Schoene hit a hook shot from the lane to put the SuperSonics ahead, 89-85, with 7:49 left.

Washington called a 20-second timeout but things only got progressively worse for a team that can't seem to find a break anywhere.

Down by 100-91 with just over three minutes to play, the Bullets' spirit might have been totally crushed when center Alton Lister, who rarely ventures away from the lane to shoot, was forced to take a three-point field goal attempt to beat the 24-second clock. Of course, the basket was good, and for the Bullets, things had gone from bad to worse.

"We were up and they came back and all the air came out," said Jeff Malone. "We let down. The games depend on the fourth quarter in the NBA, and for the last six or seven minutes tonight we didn't do the job."

As he walked triumphantly off the court, a small group of fans pleaded with Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff -- for 12 years an assistant with the Bullets -- to come back home. But Bickerstaff would not be drawn into that kind of discussion.

"I get no personal satisfaction from coming back here and winning," he said. "There are no personal vendettas or anything like that. It just feels good to win. We had a tough loss last night and I'm very proud of how this team bounced back."

The SuperSonics were beaten Friday night in Philadelphia and tonight's game was the last in a six-game trip. That extended travel schedule for the opposition made the loss even harder for Loughery to take.

"This was a game to be won," he said.

"We're at home, playing a team that's been on the road . . . We just didn't get a game we could have had. I just think we had a chance to win and we let it get away."