Kiki Vandeweghe drove the lane and put up the last shot of the game. It bounced on the rim. It rolled. It looked like it was going in. It then looked like it was coming out.

"Another one," Washington Bullets Coach Wes Unseld was muttering to himself, referring to what looked like an inevitable overtime, a second consecutive for his team.

Then Unseld watched the ball take one last bounce off the rim and fall away, assuring Washington an 87-85 victory over the New York Knicks before 12,913 at Capital Centre.

Unseld said two more words to himself as pandemonium broke out on his bench and in the stands.

"It's Christmas."

Vandeweghe's miss might have been a gift, but it was one for which the Bullets worked very hard. They played the game without center Pervis Ellison, who was suspended and fined $7,500 for his role in a fight Wednesday night at Indiana. Ellison had the best rebounding night of his pro career (15) in that game, but had to sit out last night after trading punches with Pacers center Rik Smits and being ejected.

In a strange occurrence, all five Washington starters ended up with six rebounds apiece.

But even more unusual was the scoring of Bullets guard Haywoode Workman, who led all scorers with a career-high 21 points. New York center Patrick Ewing, at times triple-teamed, led the Knicks with 20 points, but had just five rebounds.

Workman, a CBA Topeka Sizzler last year who almost was not invited back by the Bullets at summer camp, was told by his coaches to shoot more. So he took them at their word, staying out on the court when everyone else had gone in right before tipoff last night.

He feared he might get in trouble. Then he produced an eight-for-13 shooting performance and received nothing but praise from Unseld.

"He's showing a lot of confidence in his shot, which is good," Unseld said. "He's very calm out there."

The Bullets needed the appropriately named Workman when leading scorer Bernard King made just eight of 23 shots for a total of 16 points. Harvey Grant scored 20 points for the Bullets, now 9-15. The Knicks dropped to 11-13.

King did not have a particularly good game, but he was there when the Bullets needed him with a spectacular under-the-basket layin with 1:16 left. That put the Bullets up 86-83.

Ewing brought the Knicks back to within one with a tip-in off a Gerald Wilkins miss with 52.7 seconds left.

The Bullets couldn't score their next time down the floor, with Darrell Walker missing, so the Knicks came down the floor with 30 seconds left in position to take the lead.

However, Wilkins missed and the rebound was slapped out of bounds, apparently by a Bullet. The officials all looked at each other and then signaled it was Washington's ball with 5.8 seconds left.

Workman was fouled off the inbounds pass and made one of two free throws, setting up Vandeweghe's last-gasp shot with 4.8 seconds to go. Vandeweghe drove past Grant from the free throw line and spun the ball off his left hand toward the basket as Charles Jones moved in front of him.

"I thought it was in," Vandeweghe said. "But it wasn't."

The victory was the Bullets' first over the Knicks since February 1989. New York's last loss at Capital Centre was Jan. 28, 1988.

The Bullets came into the game with a four-game home winning streak. The Knicks came in with a three-game road winning streak under new coach John MacLeod.

It was a game of streaks in the first half, a see-saw game in the second half.

The Bullets moved to a 28-19 lead on King's six-foot jumper with one minute left in the first quarter. Then they did not score for almost five minutes.

By the time Tom Hammonds hit a 20-foot jumper with 8:02 left in the first half, the Knicks had taken a four-point lead.

But the Knicks were about to embark on their own dry spell, and the Bullets would surge to a 50-45 halftime lead.

"I think our intensity has been unbelievable the last four or five games," said Unseld. "We worked our tails off just keeping Patrick out of the paint, let alone keeping him from scoring.

"The big thing was we got the ball out and got some baskets before they could set up."