CHICAGO, JAN. 18 -- The streak that has seen the Washington Bullets play much better basketball continued for much of tonight's NBA game. However, instead of playing one of the league's weaker sisters at home as the Bullets had in winning four of their previous five games, they were going against the Chicago Bulls, one of the league's rising powers.

Better teams rarely allow opponents the luxury of repeated mistakes, so when the Bullets insisted on committing them throughout the night, the Bulls were able to come away with a 117-103 victory.

Michael Jordan, the NBA's leading scorer entering the game, led the Bulls with 33 points, but the real star was reserve guard Sedale Threatt, who hit 12 of 15 shots from the field and finished with 26 points to help Chicago improve to 21-14.

Washington (12-21) got 25 points from Bernard King, 21 from Jeff Malone, and 17 each from Terry Catledge and Moses Malone. The balanced scoring was impressive, as was the Bullets' 53-percent field goal shooting and their 32-28 rebounding advantage. However that didn't negate 22 turnovers, or missed free throws (seven of 28) or the times when a Washington player in position to score simply failed to catch the ball. Nor did it stand up to the Bulls' 64 percent shooting.

"We just couldn't get that break to get over the hump. Our mistakes hurt us and they did a real good job of spreading the court," said Washington Coach Wes Unseld. "We tried to do some different things against Michael, like sending guys to double team. but then when Sedale gets hot it just opens things up for Michael."

Threatt entered averaging just five points a game, although he gave a preview of what was to come with a 16-point effort on seven of nine shooting in a win against Detroit last Saturday.

"The big thing was being in rhythm," he said. "Sometimes coming in and out you can't get into the flow or get hot. With the minutes I played, I got the opportunity to put up some good shots."

Threatt led Chicago with 12 first-half points, including a jumper at the buzzer that put the Bulls ahead, 53-52.

Apparently feeling confident they were ready for the second half, the Bullets emerged from their locker room with almost nine minutes remaining before the third period -- a good four minutes earlier than most teams usually return to the court.

The Bulls started the third quarter with a 15-8 run to go ahead, 68-60. Washington called a timeout and returned with a 7-2 spurt to draw within three, 70-67, with 5:58 remaining.

That was as close as the Bullets got for the remainder of the game. With Threatt having established himself, Jordan scored seven points and the Bulls took an 85-76 advantage into the final period. In the third quarter, Chicago hit 13 of 17 field goal attempts -- 76 percent.

"We had talked about coming out tough for the second half," said Unseld. "But they got some good shots -- some of them too easy, I thought. They just got too many points in the period."

When Chicago outscored the Bullets, 10-4, at the start of the fourth quarter, it appeared that a rout was on. With almost 10 minutes to play, Unseld reinserted his starting lineup. When that didn't help, he went back to a mixture of starters and reserves.

With just under three minutes left, Washington had closed to 109-101 on a jumper by Mark Alarie. The Bullets forced a miss on Chicago's subsequent possession, but couldn't capitalize and Jordan scored on a dunk. Driving back up the floor, reserve guard Frank Johnson knifed into the lane but lost the ball.

It appeared that everyone hesitated, looking and listening for a whistle from the referees. When none came, Threatt picked up the loose ball and went the length of the floor for a layup that iced the game.

"One of the referees told me that there was a whistle but it wasn't from on the court," Johnson said. "Unexpected" was how Johnson described Threatt's play.

"From what we had heard, Sedale hadn't been playing at all, getting limited time. But we knew that if he got hot he'd cause us some problems -- and then he got hot and caused us some problems."

Now 4-2 under Unseld, the Bullets will have another opportunity to get their new coach his first victory on the road when they face the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Now five games behind their Atlantic Division rivals for second place, the contest is the first of three games between the teams in the next seven days. WASHINGTON Min FG FT R A PF T Catledge 31 7-7 3-3 8 2 2 17 King 36 9-18 7-9 5 5 5 25 M. Malone 32 6-15 5-

Three-point goals -- None. Steals -- Washington 9 (King 4), Chicago 14 (Jordan 5). Turnovers -- Washington

Attendance -- 17,767