LANDOVER -- When Washington Bullets coach Jim Lynam wanted to drive home a point about the only loss of the season, he forced his team to watch a tape of Wednesday's fourth-quarter collapse in its entirety.
But when the Bullets took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter against the New Jersey Nets last night, he barely thought about it.
"Only in the deepest thoughts of my mind," Lynam said.
This time, his team didn't give Lynam reason to. That's because seven-point lead quickly became 18 as the Bullets cruised to a 104-91 win over the Nets before 10,711 at the USAir Arena.
The win improved the Bullets to 3-1, the team's best start through four games since the 1989-90 season when Washington started 5-1. The Bullets flew to Miami after the game for a $H three-game road trip that begins tonight against the Heat.
Calbert Cheaney scored 22 points and Don MacLean added 18 points for the Bullets, who had six players in double figures. Tom Gugliotta had a double-double: 10 points and 13 rebounds.
But once again it was defense that helped the Bullets. Yes, the Bullets did allow Nets center Benoit Benjamin to score 15 points and grab 13 rebounds. But Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, both all-stars from last year, were not factors. Coleman (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Anderson (11 points, five assists) each hit four of 13 shots, combining to shoot 30.7 percent. As a team, the Nets shot 36.1 percent.
"Everyone did the job on the defensive end, and we're getting the breaks," Gugliotta said. "It's great. It's only four games into the season, but you can already tell the difference."
Over in the losers' locker room, it was apparent that Anderson hadn't heard much about these new-look Bullets. He probably still recalls last season, when New Jersey won three of four games against the Bullets.
"There's no excuse," a dejected Anderson said. "A team we should have beaten, we took them lightly on their home court."
So lightly that the Nets fell behind by 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Bullets appeared to have learned their lesson from Wednesday's 98-97 loss against the Sixers. In fact with the exception of the first quarter, the Bullets controlled this game as New Jersey managed to get to within three just once in the second half.
For the second time in as many home games, Scott Skiles outplayed a man believed to be one of the premier guards in the NBA.
Last week in the season opener, Skiles did a number on Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee Hardaway. Last night, Skiles had 12 points, seven assists and just two turnovers as he outplayed Anderson.
Who would have thought that in a game matching Skiles and Anderson that the Bullets would have an advantage in fast-break points (22-10)? With Skiles running the break, the Washington players are quickly filling the lanes, knowing that their hustle will be rewarded.
"He just distributes the ball really well and gets us in our position," Cheaney said. "The coaching staff tells us if we play good defense, we'll get rewarded at the other end of the court."
Cheaney took advantage, hitting 10 of his 14 shots from the field while playing 34 minutes. With two three-point shots last night, Cheaney now has three for the season -- two more three-pointers than he had last year. His outside shooting is making opponents respect his jumper, which makes him a more aggressive player going to the basket.
"Calbert has a year under his belt now -- he knows the NBA," Lynam said. "He's a legit player. He had a terrific game in the opener, and a terrific game [last night]. I like the way he's playing."
Especially when Cheaney's output comes on a night when Gugliotta and Rex Chapman didn't shoot particularly well. Gugliotta's 10 points came on 4-of-12 shooting from the field; Chapman, who suffered a thigh bruise at the end of Wednesday's loss in Philadelphia, hit just four of 14 shots while scoring 13 points.
MacLean, who missed the first two games, came off the bench for the second game in a row and once again showed few effects from the blister on his foot that had kept him sidelines. Eight of his 18 points came on free throws, and he also grabbed eight rebounds in helping the Bullets maintain their fast start.
"It's fun right now," Chapman said. "Winning will give us confidence and it helps everything. Injuries feel better. Players get along better."
That might be true. But Skiles, who came from a winner in Orlando, cautions his teammates.
"We can't lose perspective," Skiles said. "If Rex doesn't hit that shot against Orlando, we lose.
"If you think about it, we could easily be 1-3," Skiles added. "I'm happy to be 3-1, but I hope guys around here don't lose perspective and think we're playing the best we can. We can get better. You want to play best in late April and early May, not now."