SACRAMENTO, CALIF., DEC. 6 -- The Washington Bullets fell into familiar patterns tonight, not scoring for minutes at a time and falling to the woeful Sacramento Kings for the second time this season, 104-86, at Arco Arena.

Rookie Travis Mays scored 20 of his career-high 26 points in the first half, when Sacramento (3-13) took control of the game. Washington (6-12) looked sluggish all night after Wednesday's victory at Golden State and never got closer than nine points in the second half.

"Shooting {guard} is my natural position," said Mays, who hit three three-pointers and was 11 of 13 from the free throw line. "The transition has taken just a little more time than I thought. But Coach {Dick Motta} has been playing Rory {Sparrow} at the one {point guard} and me at the two {off guard} to pick up my confidence."

Wayman Tisdale led the Kings with 27 points and 12 rebounds and Sparrow scored 18 points. Bernard King led Washington with 25 points, with A. J. English coming off the bench for a second straight night to score 17. Ledell Eackles played most of the second half and scored 14 points.

The Bullets scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, after closing to 78-67 after three. Washington missed seven straight shots and committed four turnovers in a five-minute span midway through the final period.

But Washington's offense was sluggish from the start. The Bullets didn't get into any kind of flow, with King caught out front with the ball on more than one occasion. Though they made six of their first 11 shots, the lack of movement manifested itself at the foul line, where the Bullets didn't shoot a free throw in the first quarter.

"Their defensive intensity was much better," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said. "It dictated our offense, and we let it happen, which we have a tendency of doing. You get a feel for a game, and I didn't have a good feel about it."

Said Bullets guard Darrell Walker: "We were in it for a little while. But they were making shots. Offensively all we did was shoot jump shots and stay around the perimeter. The only person cutting to the basket was Bernard."

The Kings hit 10 of their first 16 shots, going inside to low-post specialist Tisdale, and they went on a 10-2 burst after leading by two midway through the first quarter.

Seven of those points were from Mays, the point guard from Texas. He had 10 in the opening quarter including free throws with 2:52 left that put Sacramento up, 23-14.

Washington got just two field goals the rest of the period, while the Kings got a three-point play from Antoine Carr and a basket from Tisdale, his 10th point of the quarter, to lead, 28-18, after one period.

Washington went to English and he was the Bullets' only offense in the second quarter. He made his first four shots, but the Bullets didn't put up much defense. They tried to double-team down low, but Carr and Duane Causwell merely passed the ball out to Mays for two more three-pointers, the second of which gave Sacramento a 40-26 lead with 6:28 left in the half.

The Bullets didn't get to the free throw line until Charles Jones made one with 4:08 left in the half. By the time Washington started shooting free throws, it was just trading points with the Kings, who also went to the line.

And the Kings scored six of the last eight points of the half, with Carr's jumper in the last minute giving Sacramento its biggest lead of the game at 55-38. Only Harvey Grant's jumper -- his second basket in eight shots -- before the buzzer kept Washington within 15 at halftime.

Washington started Eackles in place of Haywoode Workman in the third, but the Bullets couldn't cut Sacramento's lead, even though King made three of his first four shots. Tisdale kept the Bullets at bay with eight points in the first five minutes. His foul-line jumper gave the Kings a 67-48 lead.

But the Bullets responded with a 14-4 run. Eackles scored three and King six, giving him 12 for the quarter. Sacramento's only offense was two baskets by Sparrow. When King connected on free throws with 3:22 left in the quarter, Washington was within 71-62.

Sacramento scored five straight to extend its lead to 14, but the Bullets had five of the last seven of the quarter to close within 78-67 after three. King had 14 in the quarter to give him 23 on the night.

Washington just couldn't cut into the Kings' edge. Rookie Lionel Simmons from LaSalle scored twice to start the fourth quarter after the Bullets had gotten within 10, and a jumper from Carr a little later restored Sacramento's lead to 87-72 with 7:24 left in the game.

The Bullets went to King twice, but he missed consecutive jumpers. At the other end, Bobby Hansen threw in a three-pointer as the shot clock expired, and Carr's dunk off a steal put the Kings' lead at 20 with five minutes remaining.