"Go," Kevin Loughery yelled. "Go . . . go . . . go." And away the Bullets went. Lickety-split. Up and down the floor against the Dallas Mavericks, with abandon if not always precision, as you would imagine Imelda Marcos in Tiffany's.

Loughery might be the first 190-pound jockey, whippin' and drivin' his giddyup Bullets from the sideline with open palms or rolled-up paper.

Abe Pollin wanted a contrast to the laid-back K.C. Jones, the laid-back Dick Motta and the laid-back Gene Shue; he got it in Loughery. When the Bullets go out of the playoffs this year, it will be with their track shoes on.

Just about every Bullet at just about every level, from Pollin through slightly woozy Tiny the dog, is gambling that Shue was wrong about the Bullets: They can too run -- and win -- without Jeff Ruland.

So far, they have won three of the first four pots. Without Ruland, the Bullets beat a Philadelphia 76ers team without Moses Malone; without Ruland, they beat a fine Mavericks team that played poorly.

"Gus [Williams] was lively," said Motta, now the Mavericks coach. So were Dan Roundfield and Cliff Robinson. Manute Bol had 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and tossed in a 14-foot hook shot over 7-foot-2 James Donaldson.

Tom McMillen even swatted a Mavericks effort aside. According to Bullets patter, he finally has one more blocked shot than Marjorie Holt.

The Bullets even have brought the down-and-in pattern to basketball. When Sam Perkins hit a three-point shot with about four minutes left in the 120-112 Washington victory, Robinson made like Jay Schroeder and hit Williams for a quick basket.

Bol once plucked a rebound over Perkins and also fired long. Led his good buddy, Frank Johnson, almost perfectly. Unfortunately, Johnson was in coat and tie and seated, with Ruland, in the injured-reserved section.

"Taking nothing away from the Bullets," said Motta, about to do just that, "if we played like this against the Lakers we'd have been down by 40 at the half.

"I counted us missing seven stuffs. Seven stuffs of the ball we missed . . . . Mark [Aguirre] stepped on their dog [at halftime, as he was leaving the court and Tiny was scooting on] and didn't hurt it."

Had the 235-pound Aguirre not been so nimble, General Manager Bob Ferry might have needed to dip into his ever-dwindling stack of 10-day contracts -- for a mascot.

"Kevin joked when he signed: 'Gonna give me two 10-day contracts?' " Ferry said.

That seemed about right to most of us, what with Loughery's record in the NBA being a bit less than Shue's under-.500 performance with three franchises in 19-plus seasons.

Ferry and Pollin insist Loughery is quite a good coach, that he was not hired because he was available and family. Probably, he is as good as Shue -- and I mean that as a compliment.

The difficulty with judging the Bullets is that the more you research, the less likely you are to rip them. The bottom line always seems to be: If you have the players, you win.

Motta had the same record his first season with the Bullets as Jones did his last, 48-34. Same with Shue. He matched Motta's 39-43 exit his first year back with the team.

Trouble was, the team did not go in the direction nearly everyone thought it would. Defying all the laws of basketball gravity, the Bullets went slightly up instead of drastically down in Shue's second season.

"I expected the worst," said Ferry, meaning close to rock-bottom awful, "and that we'd build from there. Instead, we had success that [second] year. Gene got coach of the year; I won everything [involving executives]. All that . . . stuff."

Shue left the Bullets a little bit better than he found them after Motta. He's unemployed. What about player-procurer Ferry? What has he done for the franchise lately?

Given it a chance to win, is all.

No owner can ask for more.

"Success is determined by the longevity of a dominant center," said Ferry. "Russell. Chamberlain. Abdul-Jabbar. Moses. Willis Reed. Wes and Elvin here. You've got to have someone to build around.

"There was pressure to break up the team two years before we won the championship. I resisted, because there was no center combination better than Wes and Elvin in the conference. We still had a shot at the finals. You don't break that up. You keep looking for that missing link [who turned out to be Bobby Dandridge.]"

What about lately?

In the 1980s, there has been just one player chosen after the first 10 picks in the draft capable of being dominant.

That player is Jeff Ruland.

Ferry got him.

Look around the NBA. See who wins -- and why. The Lakers have three players (Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy and Magic Johnson) who were first selections in the first round; Boston's front-line players (Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale) involved choices no lower than the sixth pick of the first round.

The 76ers bought Moses Malone, who may be the last great free-agent purchase under the new salary-cap rules. Without Malone, Houston got bad enough to draft Ralph Sampson. It then stayed terrible and was able to get Akeem Olajuwon the next year.

The Milwaukee Bucks seem a collection of overachievers. Except that Terry Cummings was the second pick of the 1982 draft, Sidney Moncrief was the fifth pick of the '79 draft and four others were taken in the first round.

There has been one major draft heist lately -- and Ferry pulled it. But Ruland played in only 37 games last season; he will play in only 30 this season.

"We wanted athletes who could rebound [to complement Ruland]," Ferry said, "and we got [Roundfield and Robinson]. We even got a shot blocker [Manute Bol] to complement him again.

"It's frustrating, because you can't get those two years back. We could have won big because lots of teams [Indiana, Cleveland, the Knicks and Nets] were down."

If that's the only way to be excellent, why not work at being bad?

"The upside potential is too good for that," he said, meaning that the Bullets might have had the second-best talent in their division before the season.

Ferry did not draft Karl Malone this season "because we had Roundfield and Robinson." He assumes Ruland will mend by next season, and that wherever the Bullets are headed, it will be at full speed.