The Washington Bullets did more than win a basketball game Saturday night. They got some of that old feeling back.

Not the quiet confidence of title defenders or the shrill arrogance of title contenders, but the fulfillment that comes from a team applying its resources and competing.

In the last couple of seasons, that's most of what Washington has had to go on. But after an acrimonious, winless preseason and a bad loss to third-year franchise Miami in the season opener Friday night, bleakness was threatening. Saturday, however, the Bullets finally broke through with a 103-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Sweeter yet, it happened before a Capital Centre sellout in the home opener.

Now they get four days off before playing the Knicks in New York Thursday. Four days for Pervis Ellison's ankle to heal, four more days of rest for Darrell Walker's Achilles' tendons and four days to stand at .500 on the season.

"In a month, looking back," forward Mark Alarie said, "if things go as well, we're going to look to the game as being a real springboard, not only emotionally but from a mental standpoint. We feel we're a competitive team now. We hadn't won a game. If you beat a team like Chicago after losing to a Miami team that's pretty bad the night before, it shows something about your team."

Bulls Coach Phil Jackson called it "the ugliest game I've ever been in, as a player or coach."

It wasn't for the purist, but Washington isn't going to win many aesthetic awards this season.

The Bullets did battle for loose balls, get out and run and do some of the things that have kept them competitive against better talent for the better part of two seasons. And that's what was missing in the 0-7 preseason and the Miami loss.

Forward Harvey Grant was as good a barometer as any in the two games. Friday he didn't play very well; Saturday he had 12 points and six rebounds, playing in the game's crucial minutes and making the game-saving block on Michael Jordan's driving shot attempt.

"I didn't come up and play to my ability," said Grant, whose stats closely matched those of his twin Horace's for the Bulls -- except Harvey outrebounded his brother, 8-4. "I just wanted to come out and play, and do my job."

"We competed hard, for what we've got," Walker said. "That's the way we're going to have to play every night. And that's hard. We're going to have to fight and scrap just to stay in games -- not to win them, just to stay in them and have a chance to win."

With Ellison out for all intents -- he fouled out in nine minutes Saturday, playing a step slow after gamely trying to go on his ankle -- and Walker and Tom Hammonds both trying to play themselves back in shape following injuries, Washington's offense has been Bernard King and . . . Bernard King. A month shy of his 34th birthday, the forward is averaging 31 points, 8 assists and 5.5 rebounds his first two games. He's partly or directly responsible for 47.5 percent of the Bullets' offense.

Such an imbalance is not good in the long run. But the Bullets have to go to their big gun because right now he's almost all they have in their set offense. Saturday, he hit 10 of his last 17 from the field after starting four of 13.

"That's not what I'm looking for," King said. "Any given night it's going to require a different aspect of my game. {But} that's not what I want to do every night. I just want to win."

An encouraging sign for the Bullets was the play of rookies Larry Robinson and A.J. English in the backcourt.

Robinson, starting for the second straight game, had his second straight double-figure scoring night. English had 13 points against Chicago, and would have had more if he hadn't gone five of 10 from the foul line.

The Bullets had Robinson more or less play straight up against Jordan for a few minutes, electing not to use gimmick defenses. Maybe Jordan had something on his mind; maybe Robinson is the next coming of Dennis Rodman. Whatever, Jordan did not go crazy against him; his 28 points (and one assist) paled beside King's 44 (and six assists).

"There's nothing you can do with him," Robinson said. "I have a lot of respect for him. I just wanted to do the best I could do. I knew and everybody else knew in here that I couldn't stop him. I had no intentions on trying to stop him.

"But I wanted to do the right thing to give myself confidence."