CHICAGO, MARCH 19 -- For the Washington Bullets' present, tonight was another fourth-quarter loss, a hard one to the Chicago Bulls, 104-99, at Chicago Stadium. It may be something different for the Bullets' future. Maybe. That's what guard LaBradford Smith is now, a giant, 6-foot-3 question mark.

What are the Bullets to make of Smith now, after he dropped 37 points on Michael Jordan tonight on 15-of-20 shooting? Flash in the pan? One-shot deal? A Ledell Eackles-type tease? Or could this be the shooting guard Washington has sought since Jeff Malone was traded?

Four of Smith's points came in the fourth quarter, but none came in the final 5:18 of play, after he put Washington (18-43) up one with another textbook jumper. By way of comparison, Jordan, who had been terrible all night, missing 17 of his first 21 shots, scored 11 of his team-high 25 points in the last 4:59, leading the injury-plagued Bulls (43-20) to victory.

"The shots were just falling for me," said Smith, who is shooting 58 percent (42 for 72) in the last five games since returning from a sprained ankle. He is averaging 20.1 points in the last four games as a starter.

"It happens like that sometimes," Smith continued. "Hopefully, it'll happen like that more often. I don't say nothing to {Jordan}. Leave him alone. In the first couple of quarters he was helping out a lot {defensively on other Bullets} and I was getting a more wide-open shot."

That wasn't the case in the last 12 minutes, in which the Bullets have had so much trouble scoring in the past, and did so again tonight. Washington played Chicago straight up most of the night, leading by seven in the first quarter and by 10 early in the second before the Bulls closed within 59-56 at the half.

Smith, after having a big-eyed look in the first quarter when playing Jordan -- and getting a tough-worded talk from Coach Wes Unseld -- calmed down and started shooting the lights out.

"I thought LaBradford played really well," Unseld said. "I just reminded him to go out and play."

Smith scored a dozen more in the third quarter, but the Bullets couldn't keep center Will Perdue (career-high 17 points, 12 rebounds) off the offensive backboards, and what should have been a bigger working margin was just 80-79 after three. The teams traded the lead in the fourth, with Chicago's bench staking it to an 89-86 lead on a tipin by center Scott Williams with 7:51 left.

No one scored again until Bullets guard Michael Adams, playing the second half with an extremely sore tailbone after a hard first-half fall, hit two free throws with 6:23 to go. And Smith's jumper at 5:18 put Washington up 90-89. But Jordan then hit four straight shots, the last putting the Bulls up 98-95 with three minutes left.

Still, the Bullets rallied, and had two chances to tie in the final minute. First, forward Tom Gugliotta (14 points, 11 rebounds) missed the second of two free throws with Chicago up 100-99 with a minute left. Perdue was fouled rebounding the miss, but made just one of two from the foul line, giving Washington another opportunity.

But Pippen hit a jumper with 20.6 seconds left to ice Chicago's ninth straight win here over Washington.

Chicago played without forward Horace Grant (flu), without center Bill Cartwright, still recovering from knee surgery, and with guard John Paxson making his first appearance on the court in six weeks following arthroscopy on his left knee.

And Smith, in whom Bullets General Manager John Nash staked so much when Washington made him a first-round draft pick last year, got Jordan's attention.

"That was a very embarrassing situation for me," Jordan said. "Evidently I didn't respect the guy and he's certainly capable of putting up some numbers, and he did. Offensively, it wasn't going for me and I let that effect my defensive effort and that's something I will improve on {Saturday}. I look forward to the challenge" when the teams meet again at Capital Centre.