For one night, the Washington Bullets were world beaters. They outplayed one of the four best teams in the NBA from last season. And standing triumphant over the prone Chicago Bulls last night was Bernard King, scoring 44 wondrous points as the Bullets took an improbable 103-102 victory before a sellout 18,756 at Capital Centre in the 1990-91 home opener.

Here's what King did in the fourth quarter to square Washington's record at 1-1:

He scored 18 of Washington's 24 points, hitting eight of 12 from the floor and two of four from the line. He scored the Bullets' last 12 points, including the free throw with 1:03 left that provided the margin of victory. He fouled out Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, as the Bulls (0-2) tried everyone on him.

Then they put Michael Jordan on him.

He burned Jordan too. The result was King's high in a Washington uniform, and the soon-to-be 34-year-old's most points since before his 1985 knee injury.

"What I tried to focus on was where I was going to get the shot," King said. "How could I set my man up to get that shot. And I tried to forget about who was guarding me, because I knew I was going to take primarily jump shots. When you're shooting mostly jump shots, you really don't have time to think about how they're going to play you defensively. You're just looking for an opening."

King does not want to play this way to win. But out of necessity, for the Bullets to do much this season as they currently stand, he will have to carry the bulk of the offensive load. He knows it, his teammates know it.

"It wasn't so much that he scored a lot of points," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said. "He took them. They knew he was going to take them. We kept running the same set pattern plays. The only time he missed was when I came over and diagrammed one. With us right now, I don't think it could have been any more effective, because we needed something like that bad."

But victory wasn't assured until Washington stopped Jordan (28 points, 10 rebounds) on the final play, when everyone in the local area code knew he was going to get the basketball. Chicago called time out with 18.7 seconds left -- after Darrell Walker missed a jumper with Washington up by one -- to go through the motions of setting up a play.

But Harvey Grant blocked Jordan's drive to the basket, King came up with the ball, and Washington had dramatically reversed its fortunes after a terrible performance in Friday night's season opener in Miami.

Rookie A.J. English scored 13 points in 26 minutes of relief. Grant had 12 points and eight rebounds. Walker had 10 points and six rebounds in 35 minutes of hard-nosed defense on Jordan; Charles Jones, nine rebounds and two blocks.

Rookie Larry Robinson (10 points), starting again at guard, was right in the middle of a burst early in the fourth that put Washington ahead by six. This came after a whistle-plagued three quarters, over which 82 free throws were shot. It took two hours to play 36 minutes.

Washington again was outrebounded (49-39), but cut its turnovers to 15 and shot 46 percent to Chicago's 42. Still, it was tied at 95 after Horace Grant hit a free throw midway through the fourth.

But King was already on fire. Almost everything came from the outside. Chicago tried playing the bigger Horace Grant (Harvey's twin) on him, and King ran him through a wall of picks. Same thing when the quicker Pippen guarded him.

"The guys set excellent picks," King said. "We called some plays out there, and for three previous quarters, we had been doing something different with that specific play. A couple of times, instead of coming off and setting the screen, I decided to go back the opposite way, and they hadn't seen that the whole ballgame. I think that threw their rhythm off a little bit."

"We couldn't do anything about it," Bulls Coach Phil Jackson said. "We had to play Michael on him almost the whole fourth quarter. He just lit us up."

Jumpers, jumpers, jumpers. Another one at 2:33 gave Washington a 101-100 lead. King stepped in front of Pippen and drew Pippen's sixth foul. Fifteen seconds later, King put Horace Grant on the bench beside Pippen, and sank one of two free throws to make it 102-100.

B.J. Armstrong tied it with 1:26 left, but King's free throw gave the Bullets the lead. They got the ball back after Jordan missed a jumper, but the Bulls kept King from getting the ball and Walker tried a tough jumper.

"Wes told us if {Jordan} stays outside, Darrell can handle it," Harvey Grant said. "But if he drives, we want everybody to collapse."

He drove. They collapsed.

Walker "played him well, making him go left," Jones said. "He forced him in. I went after him. I just went for the block. I think I tipped it and then Harvey came and really swatted it. Plus, we wanted to get away without fouling him."

King got the ball to Robinson, who thought he heard the final buzzer and threw up a shot. But there was still a few hundredths of a second left. Luckily for the Bullets, time ran out before Jordan could grab the ball and call time.

King "was on fire tonight," Walker said. "He had that look in his eyes that he was not going to let us lose."