A .500 record is not going to brighten Gene Shue's outlook for very long, but the Bullets' 115-105 victory over the Mavericks Saturday night showed every indication of a turnaround for the slow-off-the-gun Bullets.
The victory was the team's sixth in the last seven games, giving the Bullets a 9-9 record for the season. More important, Shue's team showed a balanced offense, refusing to fold even when Jeff Ruland was in foul trouble and Dallas forward Mark Aguirre was shooting with exceptional accuracy.
The Bullets looked ragged in the first half, perhaps showing the strain of a Friday night game in Landover followed by a Saturday morning flight to Dallas.
Dallas took a 13-point lead at one point in the second quarter on the strength of center Pat Cummings' shooting in the first period and Aguirre's overall offensive showing. But the Bullets slowly found their bearings.
Kevin Grevey, in his first solid performance since being reactivated last week, kept the Bullets in the game in the second quarter, making five of six shots from the floor.
The Bullets started to catch up in the beginning of the third quarter on the strength of Ruland's 12 points in the first four minutes of the half. When the Mavericks started double-teaming Ruland, though, the Bullets kept up the attack, finding Greg Ballard open time after time as he raced off picks set by Rick Mahorn.
The Mavericks depend on high-scoring forwards Aguirre and Jay Vincent for much of the scoring and with Vincent held to only eight points for the night, Aguirre took over. For a few minutes, it looked as though Aguirre would singlehandedly keep the game away from the Bullets as he made shots from all over the floor, ending with 30 points.
But with three seconds left in the third quarter, Grevey began what would turn out to be the beginning of a near-perfect fourth quarter for the Bullets. He got one of Frank Johnson's 12 assists, dribbled to the top of the key and, from 30 feet out, put up a soft, arcing jumper that hardly disturbed the net.
From then on, it was all Bullets in a 37-22 fourth period as they shot 74 percent and turned the ball over only once.
Ballard ended with 25 points, but the real standout Saturday night was Mahorn, who had a career-high 18 rebounds, played 47 minutes, blocked six shots, and helped keep Aguirre's scoring down.
After the game, Mahorn stayed in the locker room long after his teammates had gone.
"It was a good night, no doubt about that," said Mahorn. "Everything that went up to the rack, I was after."
After a stretch of cross-country travel, the Bullets settle down this week, facing the Nets in New Jersey Wednesday night, the Nuggets at Capital Centre on Thursday, and the Knicks in New York Saturday.