In what is supposed to be a rebuilding year, the young Washington Bullets, fresh off a two-game winning streak, find themselves with the same record (11-15) they had at this time a year ago with all of their established stars.
The Bullets also have won back-to-back games in routs, beating the Indiana Pacers, 115-98, Christmas night at Capital Centre and the New Jersey Nets, 105-90, Saturday night at Byrne Meadowlands Arena.
The Bullets and the Dallas Mavericks are the only teams in the National Basketball Association with four rookies.
Before the season started there was talk that the Bullets might not win 20 games this season, but now they are only four games below .500 and, if the playoffs were to begin now, they would have missed them by only one game. They have won seven of 12 games in December, with three of the five losses coming to Los Angeles, Boston and San Antonio, all leaders of their respective divisions at the time.
Another loss was to Chicago on a last-second shot by Ricky Sobers in a game in which Frank Johnson didn't play because of a sprained ankle. The Bullets' only bad game of the month was the 107-102 loss to Dallas two weeks ago.
The Bullets have followed the same pattern the last two games, moving ahead quickly and never letting the opposition get in the game. They have also had the same six players score in double figures: Rick Mahorn, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Grevey, Jeff Ruland, Greg Ballard and Johnson.
"Defense is still our main thing," said center Mahorn. "Our defense brings out the offense."
"We just seem to be having a better flow lately," said Coach Gene Shue. "It isn't any one thing in particular. We're just blending in better than before."
There are other reasons for the recent successes.
Shue finally has settled on a starting lineup and has established a substitution pattern that is both productive and appears to be keeping the players happy. The only change Shue has made in the starting lineup all month was due to injury when Haywood sat out the 99-98 loss to Boston Dec. 18 with a sprained ankle.
Haywood starts at power forward, Ballard is back at small forward and Mahorn is the center. Grevey, with 38 points in the last two games, is getting his shot back at one guard and John Lucas is the point guard.
When Shue needs scoring in the back court he goes to rookie Johnson or Don Collins, and when he needs front-court help, he usually turns to Ruland first and then Jim Chones.
Shue has complained all season about the lack of a big scorer, a player he can just turn to and say "get me some points." But now, realizing he probably won't get that type of player, at least this season, he has used a more balanced scoring attack and it has paid huge dividends.