"When the shots start falling," Muggsy Bogues was saying, "no telling what might happen."

What happened last night at Capital Centre, and before 18,643 witnesses, is that the (stray) Bullets actually hit enough shots to drag the defending NBA champions to their level.


For this itty-bitty stretch of NBA time, five games, the Los Angeles Lakers and the (stray) Bullets have exactly the same record -- 1-4. This one glorious night, Terry Catledge grabbed as many rebounds as the Lakers' starting forwards combined -- and a 5-3 point guard pretty much held his own against the man who has redefined the position.

"Magic {Johnson} is 6-9; Muggsy is 5-3," Bullets reserve Jay Murphy said. "They both play the same position and they both get it done. Pretty wild, isn't it?"

In truth, Magic gets it done in every offensive way possible; until last night, Bogues was having a terrible time contributing in his special, although limited, way.

Bogues earns his considerable salary for thinking and passing. As Moses Malone is not supposed to pass or dribble, Bogues should loft the ball toward the hoop only as he did for the final points last night -- from the free throw line.

Funny thing about point guards such as Bogues. Obvious leaders, they actually are as dependent as anyone on the court. Unless the shooters to whom Bogues passes the ball put it in the hoop, he is no more effective than the paying spectators. All he has, from the sideline, is a slightly better view.

His buddies helped Bogues last night. Once he got unnailed from the bench, the (stray) Bullets did what has become such a chore so far. They hit a decent percentage from the field.

For doing that, they kept Bogues on the court for 41 of the 53 minutes of the 120-112 overtime victory.

Washingtonians have been expecting such an explosion, the 29 points from Jeff Malone, the 10-for-19 field-goal production from Moses Malone, the 36 quality minutes from Bernard King, the 15 rebounds from Catledge, the nine assists from Bogues.

Bogues wanted as much from himself. Few exude so much confidence. He sees no reason why his shoulders are not sturdy enough to at least oversee the proper execution of an offense, to get the ball to the right player at the right time.

Lately, that was not going well at all. Teammates seemingly could not plop the ball through the hoop if they sat perched atop Manute Bol. And non-shooter Bogues had built a brick house on the bench.

He doesn't mind the demotion at all.

"I just feel good coming off the bench," he said. "I'm more relaxed. My confidence is up. Everything was so rush-rush {being pushed into the starting lineup as a rookie}, I didn't have time to take a deep breath.

"Now I can watch, get a feel for the flow of the game, use it to my advantage. Lots of people expected so much. They were waiting to see what I'd do.

"It was sorta unfair. But life's unfair. I rose for a portion {of the early season} and then let down. People picked up little things to say."

Quite naturally, eyes were drawn to the two upper-case Ms, Magic and Muggsy. In their own way, each struts. The difference is that Magic's will take him right into the Hall of Fame.

There was all manner of convincing last night. Think King and Moses are not compatible? Think they play the same position on offense, low and to the left of the basket? Well, King once drove the lane and threw an in-traffic pass that Moses converted into a layup.

Ever wonder if the team could go an entire season without running any of Coach Kevin Loughery's plays correctly? Well, he yelled something that sounded like "Three White" fairly early in the first quarter.

Immediately, King whipped a pass from the left of the foul circle to a wide-open Catledge for an easy basket. Once this sort of thing got rolling, Washington shot a staggering 57 percent for the first half.

Magic once backed off Muggsy, as the defensive textbook insists. Muggsy accepted the dare and threw up a 19-footer that went in.

Muggsy traveled the fast lane in basketball because he excels on the fast break. And there also were a few of those on display last night, for a pleasant change.

In a two-on-one situation late in the first half, Muggsy decided the two large fellows on either side of him would do nothing useful with the ball. So, switching his eyes to the back of his head, or so it seemed, he flicked the ball to the trailer, Jeff Malone, who increased a six-point lead to eight.

"The game is meant for five guys," Muggsy said later. "It's a team game. Not one-on-one or a one-man show."

Near the end, a one-man Magic show is how the Lakers figured to win. But his 30 points and 14 assists could not keep the Lakers from extending their road slump.

Nobody in the Washington dressing room minded at all.

"The best we played all year," Muggsy volunteered. "Too much is made of height. It's ability that counts."

Loughery even was able to get away with Muggsy playing defense for large stretches late in the game. In the end, with two seconds left, the coach was able to relax on the bench.

Muggsy was on the foul line. With a six-point lead, there was no way his guys could blow this one. Loughery smiled and shook his fist in triumph. For a while, his seat did not seem so hot.