MILWAUKEE, DEC. 26 -- For the second consecutive game, the Washington Bullets did nearly everything that an NBA team would like to do in a given game -- everything that is, but win. After rallying from an 11-point third quarter deficit, the Bullets took a brief three-point advantage but couldn't hold it and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 102-97.

The teams were tied at 92 with 3:33 remaining in the game. Jack Sikma made a jumper, then stole the ball for another long shot that gave Milwaukee a 96-92 lead. Bernard King came back with a driving basket for the Bullets to make the score 96-94. Washington then had an opportunity to tie the game but Sikma blocked Moses Malone's shot.

The win pushed Milwaukee's record to 15-8. The Bullets dropped to 8-16. King had 24 points to lead Washington, Sikma 25 to pace the Bucks, one more than center Randy Breuer.

Unlike his upbeat patter after last Tuesday's 106-102 loss to Cleveland, Washington Coach Kevin Loughery was subdued when he spoke of this latest defeat.

"We had an opportunity to win it," he said, "but we've got to have production; we're not getting it consistently from the guys who have to perform every night for us."

On an evening when center Moses Malone played only 27 minutes and scored 14 points -- seven fewer than his average -- and Jeff Malone had but 12, the Bullets nearly came away with a victory, anyway, because of a solid team effort. They outrebounded the taller Bucks by 44-41, continued to move the ball well and shot 48 percent.

They shot 53 percent in the first three periods. In the decisive last quarter, they made eight of 23 shots -- 34 percent -- and scored only 17 points.

But with a total of 22 points in the fourth quarter, the Bucks were barely better. When King scored eight straight points for the Bullets midway through the period, it gave them a 90-87 advantage with 6:30 to play and what seemed like control of the game, or so thought Milwaukee Coach Del Harris.

"It was a hard game for me as a coach because I wasn't involved as much as I would have liked," he said. "I didn't have a good handle on the situation; I don't know how much value I was to the team tonight."

Instead, Milwaukee got some cerebral plays from its veterans, most notably Sikma, whose two jumpers, steal and block steadied the Bucks. After he blocked Moses Malone with 1:40 to play, with the score still 96-94, the home team might have caught a break nine seconds later. Manute Bol was called for goaltending on Breuer's shot from the side of the lane.

"That was a really big play," Loughery said of the call by Ron Garretson. "It was unusual that the ref under the basket called it though."

Washington missed a three-point shot on the subsequent possession but gained another chance when Moses Malone stole the ball from Paul Pressey with 1:01 remaining. The Bullets gave the ball right back on the other end of the floor, though, Malone's pass sailing out of bounds over guard Steve Colter.

Eighteen seconds after the mistake, former Maryland star John Lucas helped ice the game for Milwaukee with a fade-away jumper that Sikma followed with a layup. Just before the buzzer, Moses Malone made a three-point field goal.

"We're trying to get some momentum going right now," said Sikma. "We're in a rut of win two, lose one, win one, lose one. It's time to make hay, especially while we're at home."

The Bullets hope that a return to Capital Centre will help them break out of their skid. Beginning with a Wednesday game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bullets will be at home for four straight and seven of their next eight games.