LANDOVER -- Their center's play was at an optimum and their offense was consistently clicking.
For more than three quarters last night at USAir Arena, the Washington Bullets appeared en route to the victory which would end a losing streak that dates to March 11-- before they departed on their final West Coast trip of the season.
But the Bullets couldn't hold on to the wave and playoff-hopeful New Jersey came roaring from behind to saddle them with their eighth consecutive loss, 103-100, before 17,724 at USAir Arena.
It was another gut-wrenching loss for the young Bullets, who never trailed until Armon Gilliam's turnaround jumper pushed the Nets ahead, 102-100, with 16.4 seconds remaining.
Don MacLean's jump shot did not fall at the other end and Gilliam then sank a free throw to wrap it up for New Jersey (36-31).
The Bullets' shortage of muscle inside was again evident despite a solid game from Kevin Duckworth, who had a career-high seven blocks and a season-high 12 rebounds.
"I honestly thought Duck was the best I've seen him here," said coach Wes Unseld.
But it wasn't enough as New Jersey used its prowess on the offensive boards, an ability to hang in the game from the free-throw line and a tightened second-half defense to capture a big victory in its quest for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
"We just don't have anybody big enough or strong enough to make post-up moves," said Tom Gugliotta, who sprained an ankle in the fourth period, but returned to the game.
"And when we do take it to the hole, we don't seem to get the calls. So we have to rely on jump shots."
"We are a jump-shooting team, not a power team," said Unseld. "I don't know how many layups we missed inside."
The jumper was working very well when the Bullets shot 59.3 percent in the first half and carried over into the third quarter when they took their biggest lead of the game, 77-60.
Only excellence from the foul line-- the Nets sank 28 of their first 29-- and strong rebounding enabled them to stay close enough to the hot-shooting Bullets into the fourth period.
With an assist from rookie Calbert Cheaney -- in his first game back after missing 16 with a heel injury -- the Bullets hit 27 of their first 43 from the floor. Cheaney had 17 points in 23 minutes.
But the Nets' defense held them to five fourth-quarter field goals and the Bullets showed again they are not yet mature enough to finish.
"We've just got to keep pushing harder and eventually we'll learn how to win games like this," said forward Kenny Walker.
Derrick Coleman led the Nets with 24 points and 11 rebounds, approximately his season averages, and Gilliam (21 points) and Johnny Newman (16) provided a lot of punch off the bench.
"I didn't play very well," said Coleman, "but our second-half defense kept Washington from getting easy baskets and ignited the offense.
"As we got within reach after being down by so many, we had a lot of confidence that we could continue and win."
The Nets stepped it up and the Bullets stepped down.