The way the younger Bullets were feeling this morning at the Phoenix airport, they could have flown home from their highly successful trip without a plane.
After winning at San Diego and Phoenix on successive nights, the Bullets now have the confidence they were lacking while struggling through November.
"It's not an easy job, bringing together a bunch of strangers and saying, "Now you're a team," Coach Gene Shue said. "There was a lot of uncertainty around here last month, but now I think some of the young players believe in our system."
The Bullet system is strictly blue collar. There's not much glamor on this team, certainly no superstars. While winning four of the last five games, they have all worked extremely hard doing the dirty work -- playing tenacious defense, slowing the pace, setting picks and executing plays.
"This is the way we have to play," John Lucas said after an impressive 105-98 victory Saturday night over the Suns, who had won nine of 10 previous home games.
"It may not be real pretty," the veteran playmaker went on, "but this is our style. We can't run with some of these teams so we have to slow down, work hard to execute our plays so we can get the high percentage shots.
"It's difficult sometimes to restrain myself because you know I like to run. But we're winning by lulling other teams to sleep and that's what we're going to keep doing."
With last-place Dallas coming to the Capital Centre Tuesday night, followed by a game at slumping Cleveland Wednesday night, the Bullets have an excellent opportunity to keep their momentum alive.
Starting with a startling 114-88 victory at New York to end a Knicks' three-game winning streak, the Bullets consistently have played the type of defense that prevents their opponents from fast breaking.
Following the upset in New York, the Bullets came home and turned back Cleveland, 94-87. The only loss in the last five games was a 102-98 decision Tuesday at Los Angeles in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute.
"Sure, I'm happy," said Rick Mahorn, who anchored the defense in the middle with his shot-blocking and intimidation. "But it could have been better. We should have won in L.A. We outplayed them."
Mahorn's attitude typifies the growing confidence of the younger players. After beating New York, San Diego and Phoenix on the road, they believe that if they play the defense Shue has been preaching they can play with anybody.
In their recent five-game surge, the Bullets have yielded an average of 95.4 points per game and now rank in the top five in the league in team defense.
In their 20 games, the Bullets (8-12) have held their opponents to less than 100 points 12 times and on six occasions have limited them to less than 90 points.
Despite their consistent defense, the Bullets weren't winning earlier because they couldn't generate enough offense. However, the emergence of Greg Ballard and the return of injured Kevin Grevey has given them a lift.
"They're running a lot of plays for me and we're doing a good job of executing them," said Ballard after his 32-point performance in Phoenix. "I'm getting open on the base line on the weak side and right now I'm in a good groove. I'm thinking more offense now and I'm coming off the picks real good."
In the last six games, Ballard has scored 143 points (23.8) and led the offense five times. He is the player Shue goes to when the Bullets really need a basket.
Grevey sat out the first three games of this five-game spree with a pulled groin muscle. He showed he's ready to provide the outside scoring that was lacking, however, when he had 17 points in 18 minutes at San Diego and 20 against Phoenix.
The hustling six-year guard took a nasty spill into the Bullet bench while chasing a loose ball midway through the last quarter and sat out the remainder of the game. He said yesterday that his leg was sore, but that he would be ready for Dallas and his old coach, Dick Motta.