It is a testament to what Bernard King is doing this season that when he scores 45 points, as he did last night against the Los Angeles Clippers, people kind of, well, shrug.
"He had 45?" Darrell Walker asked. "Oh. I thought he had 30."
No, 45, the seventh time this season that King has gone over 40 points. And the Bullets won their seventh game in their last 10 outings, a 122-110 decision over the Clippers before 7,110 at Capital Centre.
King made 18 of 30 shots, raising his season's field goal percentage to .495, an astounding feat considering he's taken nearly 800 shots this season. And in the process, he regained the league's scoring lead from Michael Jordan in the three-way race that also includes Charles Barkley. King now is averaging an even 31 points per game.
"I've been shooting pretty well of late," said King, who has shot .586 his last six games, averaging 38 points per game. "More importantly, I've been able to hit the outside shot. But you really can't tell what the night's going to be from the outset. We got off to a sluggish start. Fortunately that wasn't a team that was able to establish a 14-15 point lead, or it would have been a very serious struggle."
King's partner in prime time, Harvey Grant, had a bellwether game himself, scoring a career-high 34 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The Bullets (14-18) got double-figure scoring from just two other players, guards Haywoode Workman and Ledell Eackles, who each scored 13.
But the Clippers (12-23), who lost their eighth game in their last nine and are on a brutal seven-game road trip, cooperated by shooting 40 percent. Their guards showed no interest at all in shooting from the perimeter when center Benoit Benjamin (24 points, 19 rebounds) and forward Ken Norman (22, 13) passed the ball out of the low post.
As a result, Washington climbed into a third-place tie with the New York Knicks, who lost again at home, in the Atlantic Division. And with John Williams coming out west next week for practices (though he won't be activated), oh, why not think playoffs?
"Right now, it's premature to say we're a playoff team," Grant said. "But right now we're playing like it."
Said Coach Wes Unseld, seeing that the Bullets' next five games are Boston, at Phoenix, at the Clippers, at Portland and at Seattle: "We've still got a long ways to go. We've got some tough times ahead of us. I'm not going to worry about that."
The Bullets were fortunate to lead 57-54 at halftime. They weren't really into the game. But midway through the third quarter, the Clippers faltered, scoring two points in 3 1/2 minutes. Washington went on an 11-2 run to take an 86-72 lead with three minutes left in the third.
Los Angeles closed within nine with a minute remaining, but Washington scored six points in the final 56.4 seconds, with King jamming over Benjamin to end the quarter, and led 94-79 after three.
"I don't think he's going to get 45 every night," Clippers Coach Mike Schuler said. "But most times you have to put forth a little more effort than our people did tonight."
Grant continued to push for most improved player honors. He didn't drive to the basket as much as he usually does, but he was more than content to shoot the jumper or post up the taller Charles Smith on the baseline.
Last night's effort pushed Grant's scoring average the last six games to 24 points, on .531 (60 of 113) shooting. It more than made up for the missed jumper Tuesday that could have given Washington a win in Milwaukee.
"I'm proud of what I'm doing," Grant said. "My job is to go out every night and prepare myself like Bernard and Darrell. I've learned so much from those guys. And when I get out there, it's my job to take some of the pressure off of Bernard."
The club announced it would show the remainder of the Redskins-49ers game on TelScreen Saturday, before the sold-out game with Boston, when the doors open to the public at 6:30 p.m. . . .
Clippers guard Ron Harper, who suffered a knee injury almost a year ago, has been cleared to practice full-time and could return to game action in two weeks. Harper's right knee was operated on Jan. 23. Trainer Keith Jones said he could be playing by Jan. 26.. . . Clippers guard Jay Edwards, who was suspended by the NBA on March 3 for failing a drug test in his rookie season, was given permission this week to return. CLIPPERS (110)
Min FG FT O-T A PF Pts Norman 39 10-23 2-2 6-13 2 4 22 Smith 30 5-14 5-6 1-1 1 5 15 Benjamin 42 7-16 10-13
LOS ANGELES -- Percentages: FG .400, FT .829; Three-point goals: 0-5, .000 (Norman 0-1, Smith 0-1, Martin 0
WASHINGTON -- Percentages: FG .500, FT .800; Three-point goals: 2-4, .500 (King 2-3, H. Grant 0-1); Blocked
A: 7,110. T: 2:12.
Officials: Hugh Evans, Bill Saar, Gary Benson.