The first sign that the Bullets' long rebuilding plan was working surfaced here tonight and there were enough encouraging performances to take some of the sting out of a third straight defeat.
First, the bad news. A string of six turnovers in just over four minutes midway through the third quarter ended a close game and gave the Bucks the impetus they needed to come from behind and post their second straight victory, 98-90, after an opening defeat.
The good news developed in the final 10 minutes, when Coach Gene Shue went with a lineup of Frank Johnson and Brad Holland in the back court, Don Collins and Jeff Ruland at the forwards and Rick Mahorn in the pivot. The Bullets then reduced a 14-point deficit to five points before bowing.
"It was encouraging the way the young players executed," said Shue, who may be inclined to use them more Friday night when the Bullets play unbeaten Detroit at Capital Centre (8:05, WTOP-1500).
"They were very aggressive and did a good job of running the plays," Shue said. "We were getting the ball down low, which is why Ricky played so well."
Mahorn, a second-year center from Hampton Institute, scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, as the Bullets cut Milwaukee's 80-66 advantage to 92-87 with 4:05 to play.
During one stretch, the muscular 6-foot-10 pivotman made six straight shots, mostly on post-ups and rolls to the basket. He wound up making eight of 12 shots despite playing only 23 minutes because of fouls.
"Brad and Frank both did a good job of getting the ball inside," Shue said. "That's the kind of things we've been stressing in training camp and the guys who do them in the game will be the guys who will play."
John Lucas opened up like he was going to single-handedly carry the Bullets to their first victory in three game. The veteran playmaker from Maryland scored nine straight points midway through the first quarter to help his team stay even with the talent-laden Bucks.
After Lucas' spree, Kevin Grevey (13 points) scored twice from in close and when Johnson got a three-point play, the score was 20-all.
Collins scored twice on drives, Jim Chones got a three-point play and Johnson's 15-footer gave the Bullets a 30-24 lead before the end of the period.
Bobby Dandridge made his return to Milwaukee official when he entered the game at the beginning of the second period. The former Bullet forward, 33, appeared to be in good physical condition, playing the entire period, but took only one shot and didn't get a rebound.
"I felt I wanted to blend in more than try to make a good first impression," he said. He made two of three shots and had two assists in 15 minutes.
The Bullets' aggressive defense and Milwaukee's poor shooting, 16 for 45, was enough to keep Washington ahead throughout the second period.
Spencer Haywood and Lucas scored to start the quarter, boosting the Bullets' advantage to 34-26 before Pat Cummings made a turn-around jumper for the Bucks' first points at the 8:46 mark.
The Bullets cooled down for a while as Grevey was replaced by Holland and Johnson ran the offense. But, after the Bucks closed to a point, Haywood and Chones got back-to-back baskets to give the Bullets a 39-34 lead with 2:45 left. Despite Brian Winters' three-pointer, the Bullets took a 44-42 lead to the locker room.
With Grevey, Mahorn and Greg Ballard connecting on jump shots, the Bullets built a 50-46 advantage early in the third quarter. Then that string of turnovers allowed the Bucks to break a 54-54 tie by reeling off 14 straight points for a lead they never lost.
Ballard made only three of 14 shots and got all 10 of his rebounds in the first half . . . Charles Davis started again, but played just 13 scoreless minutes . . . Mahorn and Chones each blocked two shots . . . The Bullets committed 22 turnovers, Johnson having six . . . Mahorn had just three rebounds . . . Winters made 12 of 18 shots and led all scorers with 25 points.