RICHFIELD, OHIO, JAN. 30 -- Losing their composure and an 11-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation, the Washington Bullets dropped a 128-126 overtime decision to the Cleveland Cavaliers before a sellout crowd of 18,749 tonight.

Center Brad Daugherty led Cleveland (21-21) with 29 points. Guard Ron Harper had 27 points, one more than backcourt partner Mark Price. Washington (17-23) was paced by Terry Catledge's 23 points. Forward Bernard King had 22, guard Jeff Malone 21.

Although there are more than 40 games to play in the regular season, it's already obvious that, apart from the New Jersey Nets, there are no weak sisters in the Eastern Conference, particularly at home. Entering play tonight, the Nets were the only team with a sub-.500 record at home, with every other team at least four games over the break-even point.

So a team has to be able to win on the road in taut, nailbiting games like tonight if it wants to extend its season into the playoffs. The Bullets appeared ready to establish themselves as that type of team when, after falling behind by 10 points in the first period and by nine early in the third, they took a 111-100 lead with two minutes to go.

From there, however, nearly everything went horribly wrong for the Bullets. Daugherty hit a short jumper with 1:47 to play, then 12 seconds later, Cleveland's John (Hot Rod) Williams went to the line for two free throws. He made the first. But when he missed the second, Washington was unable to come up with the rebound and Williams scored a layup to make the score 111-105 with 1:32 left.

The Bullets turned the basketball over on their next two possessions. Cleveland scored after each miscue, once on a short shot by Williams and then on a basket from Harper when Manute Bol was called for goaltending.

That made the score 111-109 with just more than a minute to play. The Bullets got a basket from Jeff Malone but Daugherty answered with a soft hook shot. With 35 seconds to play, Washington guard Tyrone Bogues (16 points, 12 assists) hit two free throws but, just five seconds later, Price was at the line putting in a pair.

Washington was able to break the Cleveland press but struggled in the front court. Under duress, Bogues attempted a pass to Jeff Malone but the ball was deflected, then stolen by Harper. The flashy guard went the length of the court, spinning away from the Bullets' defense and banking in the game-tying shot from the left side.

"Good teams are more poised tham that, that's why I say we haven't reached that status yet," said Bullets Coach Wes Unseld. "We didn't stop them on defense, we let them come down and get inside too easily. Their trap gave us trouble, but it wasn't trouble that should have made us throw the ball away like we did."

The overtime was almost anticlimatic. King opened the scoring with two free throws, but the Cavaliers responded with six straight points from Price, Daugherty and Harper, then Williams tipped in a rebound following a short basket from Jeff Malone.

With 1:11 remaining, Malone hit another short jumper to make the score 123-121, but Price connected on a three-point field goal 21 seconds later. That shot was answered by a three-point basket by Jeff Malone but that was close as the Bullets got, Harper and Bogues trading baskets before the buzzer.

"We've come back in a lot of games but never this late and never against a team playing as well as {the Bullets} have been playing," said Cleveland Coach Lenny Wilkens. "Each guy just stepped up and made a contribution."

Cleveland was coming off road victories at San Antonio and Houston earlier this week. Entering tonight's game, Wilkens feared a letdown because of fatigue, but his team didn't begin to falter until the Bullets went to a pressing lineup of Bol, John Williams, King, Bogues and Frank Johnson.

That unit was largely responsible for bringing the team back to a 54-53 halftime deficit. In the third quarter, the Bullets appeared about to lose their poise following a series of calls by referee Bernie Fryer that culminated in a technical foul against Unseld.

However the same quintet eventually turned an 80-79 deficit into the 11-point lead in the late going. However, Cleveland went to a press of its own that the Bullets were unable to negotiate.

"We threw the ball away and we threw the game away," said Jeff Malone. "You have to at least get shots at the basket and we didn't do that. We were throwing it away and they were getting the shots."