MINNEAPOLIS, JAN. 5 -- When Pervis Ellison's right hand hit Rik Smits's jaw 16 days ago, and Ellison's teammates backed him up, who knew that it would be a catalyst for a surge that would put the Washington Bullets four games under .500, 30 games into the season?

Since that fight, Washington has won six of eight, including three straight, to get to 13-17 and a half-game out of third place in the Atlantic Division. And they get three days off before a tough test Tuesday night in Milwaukee, against a team that was 16-0 at home entering last night's game.

"As long as we continue to get the play we have out of Ledell {Eackles} and Pervis coming off the bench," forward Bernard King said, "I think we'll continue to play the way we're playing. The team is playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Sure, the Bullets are taking advantage of the soft underbelly of their schedule -- not one of their six victories has come against a team with a winning record. Lying in wait this month are Boston, Phoenix, Portland, Detroit and resurgent Atlanta.

But the good teams beat up on their lessers too. The schedule isn't the only reason for Washington's improvements the last three weeks.

During the streak, the Bullets have shot 52 percent (380 of 728) and averaged nearly 116 points. It's an extension of a longer trend of better offense. Washington has had at least 40 field goals in every game since Dec. 9. It had fewer than 40 in nine of its first 18 games.

That's 80 points as a base. And the Bullets have built on that by improving at the foul line. Washington has shot a respectable 74 percent (164 of 221) from the line the last eight games, after hitting 69 percent the first 22 games.

"I can't say we've won a lot," King said. "We're starting to win consistently. That's the difference. A lot is when you start looking at your record and you're seven games over .500. But for this ballclub, it means a lot, because we have such a young team. When you have a young team, and you have a losing streak, it's easy for young players to get down. But this team has remained intact. No one has gone their separate ways."

Individually, Eackles may be rounding himself into the third scorer the Bullets covet. He had 22 points in 26 minutes Friday and is averaging 14 points in his last six games.

When Eackles is scoring, you can see the offense go away from the King tilt. It also means that, while the Bullets will take whatever offense they can get from Ellison this season, they don't have to depend on him for points.

"Lately I've been averaging 10 {points}, hitting double figures," Eackles said. "I've started feeling like myself again. I've started looking for my shot. I'm thinking more offensive-minded. I'm just out there playing."

"He's wanted to give us all he had," King said. "Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot for him to give physically, because he had no conditioning. Wes {Unseld} has been riding him a lot. He's forced him to go beyond his limits and Ledell's responded by working off-days."

Unseld isn't the only one on Eackles. Darrell Walker also pushes him. Friday -- and this was after Eackles scored 12 points in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter -- Walker said to Eackles loudly during a timeout, "You're not working to get open."

Said Walker: "I can't get on a guy all the time. That's for Wes and them to do. He's a very good offensive player. But he still needs to lose 10 pounds and get in better shape. He can help us. No doubt. He can average 15 to 18. But this game is also getting yourself ready to play every night."

Bullets Notes: Trainer John Lally missed his second straight game with the flu. Equipment manager Charlie Butler is handling many of Lally's duties, and Friday Minnesota trainer Jay Jensen served as trainer for both teams. Lally is expected back for the Milwaukee game.