Until Monday, the post-game Washington Bullets locker room during December had not been the place to uplift one's holiday spirits. No smiling. No laughter. No wins.
So the Minnesota Timberwolves on Washington's schedule came just at the right time, as the Bullets ended their 10-game losing streak with a 99-84 win Monday night.
Winning probably made a more tolerable charter flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, where the Bullets will face the Clippers tonight at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
"You could just look around and tell that everyone was happy, big-time," Bullets center Kevin Duckworth said yesterday. "We've been playing really hard, especially over the last two or three games. To finally win, it's a great feeling."
And it gives the Bullets a golden opportunity to climb out of the hole they've created for themselves over the past three weeks, when seven of their 10 losses came against teams considered to be in the upper crust of the NBA. With the Sacramento Kings tomorrow, the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday -- both on the road -- and the Kings against Wednesday at the USAir Arena, the Bullets have a chance to right themselves while going against sub-.500 teams.
The wins are anything but automatic for the Bullets, who had lost three straight games in Minnesota before Monday. Even with a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Bullets had to have visions of Saturday night, when they blew a nine-point lead in the final period by scoring 12 points.
But there was no late fold this time, as Washington, despite shooting 42.4 percent, came away with its second-largest margin of victory this season.
"We've been there in the fourth quarter a bunch of times," said Don MacLean, whose 24 points led the Bullets. "We just finally finished one off."
The way Duckworth has been worked into the rotation recently may be an indication that his role is going to expand. Matched up mainly against Christian Laettner, who is better suited to playing forward, Duckworth had his best game as a Bullet against the Timberwolves, with season highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds.
In the three games since requesting a meeting with coach Wes Unseld last week, Duckworth is averaging 34.6 minutes. The seven previous games, he was on the court for 20.8 minutes.
"The talk I had has helped big time," Duckworth said. "I was to a point where I was going crazy. I didn't know what the team was going to do, and I didn't know what I was going to do."
Duckworth said part of the change is not, out of frustration, shooting outside jumpers. "[Unseld] had made me understand that this is a jump-shooting team," Duckworth said. "And that he needs me inside."
And the Bullets continue to need strong efforts on the defensive end. Allowing 84 points to the Timberwolves was the best effort by the Bullets this season, and the game was the third in 18 outings that Washington has allowed fewer than 100 points.
NOTES: MacLean is averaging 23.6 points in the three games since he had two points in a loss to Indiana. . . Michael Adams' 13 assists Monday are the best this season for Washington. Adams is averaging 17.4 points over the past five games.
Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
Site: Los Angeles Sports Arena
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
This is the second of four straight road games for the Bullets, who are 2-9 on the road. G Rex Chapman (18.0 ppg) leads the Bullets in scoring, but is coming off a 10-point performance -- his second-lowest of the season -- at Minnesota. F Tom Gugliotta and F Don MacLean are averaging 16.5 points, with Gugliotta adding a team-high 9.2 rpg. For the Clippers, F Danny Manning leads at 25.7 ppg. The Clippers are fifth in the league in field-goal percentage (.480). The Bullets are next-to-last in field-goal percentage allowed (.502). Los Angeles has lost three straight. The Bullets lost both games to the Clippers last season.