SALT LAKE CITY, DEC. 2 -- A plane carrying the Washington Bullets to Monday night's NBA game with the Utah Jazz made an emergency landing this afternoon at Denver's Stapleton Airport after temporarily losing power in one of its two engines.

The plane, a United Airlines 737, left Baltimore Washington International Airport at 9 this morning, less than 12 hours after the Bullets' upset victory over the Detroit Pistons at Capital Centre. It made an intermediate stop in Denver and, after a brief layover, was supposed to get into Salt Lake City around 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (4 p.m. EST). But soon after takeoff in Denver, players from the University of Utah men's basketball team, also on the flight, saw sparks coming out of the right engine.

"{The pilot} came on and said the engine blew out," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said. "We went through the whole emergency procedure -- tuck your head, grab your ankles. It was pretty frightening on the whole. Some people were crying, that sort of thing."

"We took all the instructions for a crash landing," said Charlie Slowes, the Bullets' play-by-play radio broadcaster.

Richard Boulware, an airport spokesman at Stapleton, said the occurrence was not as unusual as one might think.

"When you have 1,200 takeoffs and landings as we do here every day, shutting down one engine, voluntarily or involuntarily, is not a newsworthy event unless something happens," he said.

Bill Marcroft, a reporter for KUED, the PBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, was also aboard. He said this evening on his weekly television show with University of Utah Coach Rick Majerus -- who wasn't on the plane -- that the passengers were told a rag blew into the engine, causing the problem.

"There were several people on the plane who said they almost converted," Marcroft said. "You can laugh about it {now}."

Several veteran Bullets were seated in first class.

"This hasn't happened to me in 13 years in the NBA," Bernard King said. "It was a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. We heard a thump. When you're traveling through air you shouldn't hear thumps. It's not like you're in a car and you run over something."

After the engine failed, King said passengers had about eight minutes to prepare for the emergency landing.

"The stewardess said if she was unable to open the emergency door, she would give instructions to Tom Hammonds, who was seated next to the door, {about} what he was going to have to do to get the door open."

Turbulence in the Denver area complicated matters, as the plane undulated severely in strong winds.

Unseld, who said he had been in similar situations a couple of times in his flight-laden life, said "firetrucks lined the runway and they moved all the {air} traffic out of the area."

But the pilots were able to restart the engine, and navigated to a safe landing. No one was injured.

After the plane landed, passengers were told that the problem had been isolated and that they might take off again after a brief stop at the gate. But the Bullets, along with everyone else, deplaned in Denver.

"Everybody said 'Open that door,' " Slowes said.

The Utah team opted to take a Continental flight to Salt Lake City an hour later. The Bullets chose to wait and took a Delta flight, which landed around 6:30 MST. They finally walked into their hotel at 7, 12 hours after starting the trip.

Boulware said the shutting down of the engine was "a precautionary standby. The plane landed safely."

The team was originally to travel on a DC-10, but the flight was changed to the more cramped 737.

Said guard Darrell Walker: "We all take it for granted about living. I knew we could fly on one engine -- we could have flown all the way to Salt Lake City. But Mark {Alarie} said one engine to land is very difficult, because {the plane} isn't balanced. Things kind of flash across your mind -- your kids, your family, your mother."

Bullets Notes: The team hoped its 94-83 victory Saturday night halting the 10-game winning streak of the defending champion Pistons was a better harbinger for the start of this longest trip they'll have to make all season, five games in an 11-day western swing.

Monday, the Bullets have their first meeting with guard Jeff Malone since the offseason trade that sent the veteran jump-shooter to the Jazz in the three-team deal bringing center Pervis Ellison to Washington.

"If we play half as good as we did {against the Pistons}, we can beat some of those West Coast teams," said Walker, who against Detroit had 10 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and a shovedown of Bill Laimbeer during a fourth-quarter free-for-all.