When the Washington Bullets came out of their preseason schedule, they had taken the donut. Oh-fer. 0-7. They lost to the 76ers and Celtics and Bulls, and the Cavaliers and Clippers and Pacers. There was no thought of playoffs, only of surviving long enough to get to next June's draft lottery.

That was before Haywoode Workman emerged from the CBA and became a coagulant in the backcourt. Before Pervis Ellison showed he could become a defensive force in reserve to give Washington a two-headed center that averages 9.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.82 blocked shots per game.

And it was before Harvey Grant exceeded everyone's expectations, coaches included, to become a leading candidate for the league's most improved player award.

But those developments, added to Bernard King's all-star caliber season and the usual grunt work from Darrell Walker and Charles Jones, have brought the Bullets close to .500 six weeks into the season, an unbelievable scenario.

"I'd rather not say 'surprised,' " King said. "Certainly we're very pleased. We said early on that we had talent on the team, and if you go back to the discussions all of us had at the beginning of the season, even when we were struggling, we said there was talent but it's going to take a little time for the younger players to mature.

"You couldn't determine what sort of time frame it would take, whether it would be 15 games, 40 games or even 70 games. Fortunately Haywoode Workman has stepped forward, Pervis stepped forward, and we're getting contributions."

A month ago, nothing was happening. King was scoring in bunches for three quarters, but foes double-teamed him in the fourth, daring anyone else to beat them. The Bullets would lose.

"At the beginning, everyone was trying to find where they are on the team," Workman said. "Now everyone's coming together. We're playing together as a team. If we continue to do that, I've been telling myself that teams are going to look around and the Bullets are going to be fighting for maybe that first or second {playoff} spot."

Workman has given the Bullets their first real jumpshooter at the point perhaps since Gus Williams's heyday. That is to say, if he's given the perimeter shot, more often than not he hits it. He provides a natural ballhandling element that makes the team less vulnerable to half-court traps. It was when he was out of the Bullets' 116-99 victory Saturday that the Celtics' traps succeeded.

"When we can get the ball out, he can push the ball very effectively," Coach Wes Unseld said. "And when you've got Harvey Grant and Bernard King filling the lanes, that can be very effective."

A month ago, everyone -- even Ellison -- wondered why he was playing so poorly. He seemed to bottom out against the Lakers in Los Angeles in early December. He was one of five shooting and had two rebounds in 14 minutes.

But since mid-December, he's shot 50 percent (35 of 70). His rebounds have gone from 4.7 per game to six. And he's just outside the top 10 in blocks per game at 1.93. Teamed with Jones, Ellison gives the Bullets a pretty decent pivotman.

"C.J.'s done an excellent job the whole year defensively, a hell of a job," Ellison said. "To see a guy like that work so hard, it kind of rubs off on you."

Grant has been playing well all season. Even when the Bullets weren't going so well, he was averaging 17 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. But since then, he's raised his game further, averaging 23.8 points on 54 percent shooting.

"I don't think anyone's seen the consistency that he seems to have now," Boston's Robert Parish said.

He is putting together the complete offensive package: perimeter jumpers, post-up ability against power forwards -- many of whom are bigger -- and transition scoring. He had 14 such points Saturday, 12 coming on dunks.

"That's our game," Grant said.