CLEVELAND, DEC. 23 -- The laughter was genuine, after weeks of apprehension and dread. The Washington Bullets know they are messing up a chance to get the first pick in next June's NBA draft, something that comes along once a millenium or so.

They don't care.

Winning is a better salve. After Saturday's 109-89 blowout of the Cavaliers, the Bullets have a three-game winning streak, their first since the beginning of April. And there's a chance to build on it.

The Bullets play their next four at home -- technically -- beginning Wednesday at Baltimore Arena against Philadelphia. After that, they meet Seattle, Denver and Charlotte at Capital Centre -- very winnable games. A continued surge and Washington (10-15) could be near .500 before the end of the new year's first week.

If you thought that at the beginning of the season, you would be in a cocktail party of one.

"There seems to be a chemistry that is developing," Bernard King said. "That's something we were lacking earlier. We have guys that are emerging. {Friday} night Haywoode {Workman} had the great game, and Harvey {Grant} continues to play so well. But we're starting to read one another {and} know what to expect from one another on the floor offensively and defensively."

There are caveats, of course. The Bullets have beaten an Indiana team that fired its coach the next day, a Knicks team trying to get used to its own new coach and a Cleveland team strapped by a slew of injuries.

But wins are wins, especially road wins. Washington now has four this season after getting just 11 all of last year.

King led the way Saturday with 46 points, his best ever in a Bullets uniform. Usually Norman Scott, the Knicks' physician who operated on King's knee in 1985, gets the game ball on nights like that. Not Saturday.

"Maybe if I had scored 50," King said.

Grant scored 24 Saturday, the fifth straight game and eighth time in his last 12 that he's scored 20 or more. During that period he's shooting 52.5 percent (104 of 198).

Workman has been better than solid at the point. During Washington's win streak he's played 112 minutes, an average of better than 37 a game, and has just five turnovers as compared to 21 assists.

The scoring he did against the Knicks was a bonus. His real value to the Bullets is that he takes ballhandling responsibilities off Darrell Walker, who can concentrate on defense and rebounding.

"I'm not on this team to score," he said. "One game I was hitting my shots. I feel I'm in control out there. I know what we want to do on offense and I try to get there and get it done without getting the ball. Most of the time I'm either making a pass or I'm getting a pass. I know what I want to do once I get the ball."

Pervis Ellison was again a rebounding force, grabbing 11 Saturday to go with his 15 Wednesday. Of late Washington has gotten either points or defense from its reserves where previously it had neither.

"The bench is coming along," Grant said. "They're doing things that everybody expected of them. And the last three games we've come out and played 48 minutes. If we come out each night like we did those three games, we can play with anyone. I'm convinced we can."

Ellison is also shaking off recurring turns of his ankle. It happened again Saturday, but after going to the bench he soon returned.

"I sprained it and it's never really healed," Ellison said. "So every time I turn it, just a little bit, I feel it."

He's also part of a defensive resurgence. The Bullets double-teamed Cleveland center Brad Daugherty on Saturday, but when he passed the ball outside there were no open shots, even when the Cavaliers passed the ball around.

Washington's defensive rebounding is improved, and a lot of the credit should go Ellison's way.

"He's one of the {defensive} keys," King said. "I think it's unfair to put that sort of pressure on any one player, to say that he is the key. But he is the key coming off the bench. We need a lift from someone in the center position when we go to the second unit."