EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Pervis Ellison ended 1991 with a crash and started the new year with a bang.
Involved in an auto accident Monday night en route to the Capital Centre that sidelined him for the San Antonio Spurs game, the Bullets center bounced back last night with a 31-point, 15-rebound performance as Washington turned back the New Jersey Nets, 112-108, at the Meadowlands.
The victory was the sixth in the past seven games for the Bullets (12-18), who needed a rare four-point play by Michael Adams and three last-minute free throws by A.J. English to hold off the Nets, whose four-game winning streak ended.
New Jersey (11-19) had its last opportunity to tie it after English made the second of two foul shots to give the Bullets a 108-106 lead with 32 seconds left. Nets point guard Mookie Blaylock missed a short jumper, and center Sam Bowie (30 points, 10 rebounds) hustled for the rebound. His layup attempt, however, was swatted away by Bullets forward Harvey Grant, and English collared the critical loose ball.
Derrick Coleman then fouled English, who made both free throws with 13 seconds remaining. Four seconds later, a layup by Drazen Petrovic pulled the Nets within a basket again, but Adams finally put it away by converting two free throws.
"Give them credit," said coach Bill Fitch, who has seen his Nets lose both their home games to Washington this season. "The Bullets are a much better club than anyone thinks. I think they're as good as Cleveland."
Fitch may be overstating matters in comparing the Bullets to the streaking Cavaliers -- 21-9 and winners of eight straight. But coach Wes Unseld always has said the Bullets could be competitive as long as his key players were healthy.
Ellison sported a soft brace around his neck before the game and the few times he rested on the bench. But the minor injury from his car accident obviously did not bother his shooting.
"I only had trouble when I had to move my head quickly, side to side," he said. "But it didn't bother me when I was in the flow of the game. My teammates gave me a lot of back screens to spring me open. That's how you have to beat the Nets defensively."
Already labeled the most improved big man in the NBA, Ellison made 12 of 15 field-goal attempts, including feathery jumpers, spin moves and short hooks and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line.
He crammed 28 of his 30 points into the first three quarters, helping the Bullets build a 93-80 advantage with 10 minutes left before the Nets mounted a comeback.
The Bullets' motion offense came to a grinding halt midway in the fourth quarter and they were forced to take low-percentage shots with the 24-second clock running out.
"We did too much standing around," said Adams. "Fortunately, I made that 'four-point play' at a critical time."
Said Unseld, "I don't ever remember seeing that before." But Adams has now performed this feat eight times -- a league record.
Overall, Adams made only four of 14 shots from the field, but Unseld got a lot of mileage out of the shooting guard position with starter David Wingate providing strong defense on Nets scoring leader Drazen Petrovic and English continuing his hot streak with 19 points in 22 minutes.
Petrovic finished with 12 points, eight below his season average, hitting only five of 14 shots.
"The Bullets came out with the idea of making sure Drazen didn't get any easy shots," Fitch said. "They defensed him well, but maybe we didn't get the ball to him enough."
Most of the Nets' scoring came from their front line, with Bowie scoring 30 and power forward Derrick Coleman adding 25.
But they could not make the crucial shot in the closing seconds, and the Bullets, who play host to the New York Knicks tonight, have a surprising 8-9 record on the road.
NOTES: Bullets GM John Nash has petitioned the NBA to exempt half of suspended forward John Williams' $1.1 million contract from the team salary cap of $12.5 million. Williams, as he was for much of last season, is under medical suspension for being overweight. If the league approves, Nash can carry $550,000 into next season. Nash said league officials believe Williams could return to action this season, but the player has not stayed in touch with the Bullets over his weight problem. . . . Williams' arbitration case concerning the $426,000 the Bullets withheld from last year's salary will not likely be decided before mid-January, with league arbitrator Daniel Collins on vacation. . . . Reserve C Ralph Sampson still is mulling over an offer to play the remainder of season for Malaga in the Spanish Basketball League, but apparently is leaning toward remaining with the Bullets.