The basketball goes, as promised, to Norman Scott, the surgeon who rebuilt his right knee. But that's only a tangible item. Whatever feelings Bernard King has about what he did last night at Capital Centre he gets to keep to himself.

King scored 52 points, reaching a personal plateau he had set for himself since being injured in March 1985, and the Washington Bullets joined in the record-making with a franchise-best scoring night in a 161-133 rout of the Denver Nuggets in front of a sellout 18,756.

The 52 points are the third most in franchise history. Phil Chenier scored 53 on Dec. 6, 1972, against Portland, and Earl Monroe totaled 56 on Feb. 13, 1968, against Los Angeles. King did set a Capital Centre record for most points by a Bullet.

The Bullets set a franchise record for most points scored, erasing the mark of 153 in a double-overtime game with Detroit in 1970. The 294 combined points are a franchise record, as are the 83 combined first-quarter points.

"It's very special to me," said King, who was 20 of 35 from the floor and 12 of 14 from the line in 39 minutes. He also had eight rebounds and six assists as the Bullets (11-17) broke a two-game losing streak.

"It's something I'll never forget," King said. "To come back after the surgery and get 50 points, that's something I got at a different point in my career and a different level of my career, when I was with New York. To do it here in Washington is certainly very special."

King's highest output came as a Knick in the season he led the league in scoring with a 32.9 average. He totaled 60 points against New Jersey on Christmas Day in 1984, just three months before his knee injury.

The Bullets had control after a late first-quarter burst and were never up by fewer than 12 afterward against Denver (6-22), which is reeling from injuries to leading scorer Orlando Woolridge, guard Todd Lichti and forward Jerome Lane. The Nuggets were down to 10 players last night, including two just signed from the CBA.

"I kind of like the way they play," Bullets Coach Wes Unseld said. "We play a modified {version}. We don't quite go as fast or as much or every time as they do, but our objective is to push the ball up and get into an up-tempo game."

Washington shot 61.7 percent and placed eight others in double figures, led by Harvey Grant's 18 points. Denver's Michael Adams and Chris Jackson each scored 32 points, and Adams had 14 assists.

King had 41 points after three quarters, and the Bullets led 117-88. He scored four in the first three minutes of the fourth, but then stalled, and Unseld was thinking about calling it a night.

Fortunately for King, Denver scored 11 straight midway through the quarter, closing its deficit to 127-108 with 6:27 left and giving the Bullets reason to leave him in the game.

"With someone like myself, it's difficult just to go up and shoot the ball," King said. "And in the same token you know you're close to 50, you'd like to have that happen, and you haven't done it, and you've been close since you've come back from this injury. . . .

"The first couple of shots I pressed a little bit. And when I was at the foul line I told myself, 'I deserve this.' It kind of relaxed me a little bit."

He hit one of those two free throws with 6:24 left for his 46th point. At 4:55, he hit two more for 48. And 12 seconds later, Ledell Eackles hit him for a baseline jumper that gave him 50.

"You worry about whether the other coach is thinking you're running it up on him," Unseld said. "You give that some short consideration and then you go ahead and do it for the reasons you want to put him in."

King came out with 4:36 left, but then the scoreboard showed that he had tied Moses Malone's arena record for points. Unseld asked, and King re-entered at 3:54. Off Denver's trap, Mark Alarie hit him cutting to the basket with 3:20 left, and he drove for his last two.

Said Nuggets Coach Paul Westhead: "You should play your best guys as long as there are minutes in the game. I take it more as an honor when you play your guys, whatever your motivation is. I don't ever like any favors. If you want to put your best guys in to try and get more points, we'll try our best not to let them get more points."

King came out for good at 2:30, to a standing ovation. He has one more personal goal, and that is to make the all-star team. That is for later. This is to savor.

"I wouldn't have been thrilled until it happened," he said. "That was a milestone for me. I never went into a game wanting to score 50 points, but it was always in the back of my head that until I get 50, I haven't really gotten all the way back."

MOST POINTS, INDIVIDUAL: 52, Bernard King (old record, 50, Moses Malone at New Jersey, 1987). Two Bullets scored more when the franchise was in Baltimore: Earl Monroe had 56 vs. Los Angeles in 1968 and Phil Chenier had 53 vs. Portland in 1972.

MOST POINTS, INDIVIDUAL, FIRST QUARTER: 23, Bernard King (old record, 19, Elvin Hayes at Buffalo, 1977; Ricky Sobers vs. Cleveland, 1983; Jeff Malone vs. Boston, 1988; Bernard King vs. New Jersey, 1989).

MOST FIELD GOALS, INDIVIDUAL: 20, Bernard King (old record: 20, Elvin Hayes, several games).

MOST POINTS, INDIVIDUAL AT CAPITAL CENTRE: 52, Bernard King (old record: 48, Jeff Malone vs. New Jersey, 1987).

MOST POINTS TEAM, GAME: 161 (old record, 146 vs. Indiana, 1978). Franchise record: 153 vs. Detroit, 1970.

MOST POINTS TEAM, FIRST QUARTER: 48 (old record, 44 vs. Orlando, 1990).

MOST POINTS TEAM, FIRST HALF: 81 (old record, 79 at Kansas City, 1977).

MOST POINTS, TEAM AT CAPITAL CENTRE: 161, Bullets (old record: 146, Bullets vs. Indiana, 1978).