LANDOVER -- The Denver Nuggets used a 40-point third quarter to gain a 13-point lead and cruised to a 126-112 victory over the Washington Bullets before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
Former Georgetown star Dikembe Mutombo led Denver (25-34) with 20 points and 17 rebounds and another ex-Hoya, Baltimore's Reggie Williams, added 18.
It was the fifth straight loss and 11th in the past 12 games for the injury-depleted Bullets (16-42). Rookie Tom Gugliotta led Washington with 26 points, but scored 20 in the first half when the Bullets played the Nuggets to a 51-51 tie.
The victory was only the fifth in 31 road games for the Nuggets (25-34). Only the Dallas Mavericks, who haven't won in 26 road tries, have won fewer games away from home this season.
The Nuggets, like the Bullets, have one of the youngest rosters in the league and are still experiencing growing pains. But there was no sign of panic during their 13-game losing streak in December.
"You can't put extra pressure on kids," said Denver general manager Bernie Bickerstaff. "That would only hold them back."
Several of the young players have matured quickly. Forward LaPhonso Ellis, the fifth choice in the 1992 draft, has proved one of the brightest rookies, averaging 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds. He scored 11 of his 20 points in the opening 4:44 of the second half last night.
"With the exception of [Orlando's] Shaquille O'Neal and [Charlotte's] Alonzo Mourning, I believe Ellis has been the most consistent rookie," said Bickerstaff. "He didn't hit the wall like most rookies do. A lot of guys have more skills, but with Ellis, you're going to see a steady development."
Bickerstaff also noted rapid improvement by guard Mark Macon and small forward Bryant Stith.
"The only thing holding them back has been injuries," he said.
Injuries are something Bullets coach Wes Unseld knows all too well. Last night, with Pervis Ellison (knee), Rex Chapman (ankle) and Doug Overton (thumb) still on the mend, Unseld experimented with yet another starting lineup.
Forward Larry Stewart, a key reserve, got his first start of the season. Small forward Buck Johnson was again shifted to the backcourt, teaming with point guard Michael Adams.
The Bullets did everything right in the first three minutes, jumping out to a 9-2 lead. They played strong defense, doubling down on Mutombo and forcing the Nuggets to shoot outside.
Denver used its strength on the boards to grab a number of offensive rebounds and trim the margin to 16-14.
Washington was able to maintain a slim lead thanks to the passing of Adams and shooting of Stewart and Harvey Grant. A dunk by Stewart made it 21-16.
But the Nuggets gained their first lead, 27-24, when Robert Pack and Williams sparked a 7-2 run. The Bullets reclaimed the lead after one quarter, 30-29, when Gugliotta and Adams made consecutive jumpers.
The scoring pace slackened in the second quarter when both teams committed repeated turnovers. But rookie Don MacLean ended the Bullets famine, hitting a pair of jumpers to forge a 40-35 lead.
Chris Jackson sliced the deficit to 42-39, but five points by Gugliotta quickly stretched the Bullets advantage to 49-41. Former Bullet Tom Hammonds joined Pack in pulling Denver into a 49-49 tie.
It was still tied at the half, 51-51. Gugliotta led the scorers with 20 points. Williams topped the Nuggets with 11.
Denver began beating the Bullets down the floor in the third quarter to score easy baskets. With Ellis doing most of the damage, the visitors grabbed a 67-58 lead.
Ellis also embarrassed the Bullets, missing a free throw and grabbing the rebound to jam it home.
Denver scored 40 points in the third quarter, making 70 percent (16-for-23) of its shots.
The Bullets scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to pull within nine and Denver coach Dan Issel hurried his regulars back into the game. With Mutombo controlling the boards, the margin quickly ballooned to 97-84.
Stewart kept the Bullets alive with his inside moves. His three-point play made it 100-91. Denver answered with five straight points for a 105-91 bulge with 6:00 left.