Sure, the Dallas Mavericks have been denuded by injuries this season. And they had dropped 13 of their last 17 road games. But they still have veterans at their core, and that group played the Washington Bullets like the young team they are, holding on for a 99-96 decision before 11,013 last night at Capital Centre.

Factually, the game came down to a miss by Ledell Eackles with 2.7 seconds remaining and the Bullets (18-23 at season's midpoint) down a point. But realistically, the Mavericks (14-26) won by controlling the tempo, not allowing Washington to get into any kind of running game.

With the pace at a walk, the Mavericks got the ball to their shooter-laden team, led by guards Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman. But it was veteran Alex English who killed Washington, bouncing off the bench for 22 points in 27 minutes.

Bernard King scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, when the Bullets seemed to be in command. Haywoode Workman added 15 points for the Bullets; Darrell Walker had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Charles Jones had 11 rebounds.

But the Bullets got next to nothing from their substitutes.

Eackles shot three of 10. Pervis Ellison was one of four. Mark Alarie made two of three -- the miss was a desperation three-point try at the buzzer that would have tied the score -- but played only five minutes.

"They controlled the whole second half," said Harvey Grant (20 points, nine rebounds). "We didn't do the things down the stretch. We've got to get a killer instinct."

"It's very difficult to get transition baskets, because they slow it down and keep it pressured," Coach Wes Unseld said.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win. That's all I can ask from this ballclub. But we couldn't buy a basket in that first stretch of the fourth quarter."

That was when the Mavericks went on a 13-4 run that turned a 73-70 deficit after three periods into an 85-77 lead with 8:08 remaining. Dallas held that lead for most of the rest of the way.

The Mavericks use just seven or eight players, and had played down to the wire Friday night in a road loss to Detroit. A riper team for fast-break basketball didn't exist. But the Bullets couldn't get running, even though they had only seven turnovers and outrebounded Dallas, 43-37, in spite of 17 rebounds by the Mavericks' 7-foot-2, 278-pound James Donaldson.

"They're just a great half-court team," Walker said, "and we're not good at it. It's disappointing. These last two we could have won. We just didn't run and get out and play the way we've been playing." The Bullets lost to Indiana on Friday in Baltimore when they could have pulled 3 1/2 games ahead of the Pacers, their pursuers for playoff position.

The Mavericks' English shot nine of 14, beating a succession of Bullets with the repertoire of soft baseliners and jumpers in the lane that have helped him to a 25,000-point NBA career.

"Alex played B {King} very well," Dallas Coach Richie Adubato said. "He knows how to play the guy. They've both been in the league for a long time. Hey, Bernard is a great player. Late in the game I was going to put Alex on someone else, but he asked me to let him play Bernard."

Trailing 91-84 with 3:54 left, Washington scored eight points in the next minute and a half, with Dallas's only basket a shot-clock-beating jumper from Blackman (10 points). Workman's layin with 2:30 left got the Bullets within 93-92.

Dallas hit two straight tough jumpers to stay ahead, but Washington responded to each, King squaring up on the baseline at 33.6 seconds to bring it to 97-96.

After an Ellison foul with 16 seconds remaining, the Mavericks didn't have to shoot, as Washington was not over the limit. But the Bullets forced a five-second call, for a chance at the deciding shot, when Harper couldn't inbound the ball.

Eackles took a pass and drove left. King positioned himself to the left of the key, but Eackles, heading toward him, had room to drive. His runner was an air ball and Donaldson grabbed the rebound. Ellison fouled him and Donaldson made both shots.

Alarie got a shot at a tie, but under pressure hit the back rim.

Said Unseld: "It was unfair to put {Eackles} back in after sitting so long, but he's usually been pretty good about that."

"I'm a professional player," Eackles said. "When the coach calls on me I have to be ready. I just went in there and missed the shot."