Life on the road for the Washington Bullets hasn't been pleasant the past three Decembers. In 24 road games from 1991 to 1993, the Bullets have won just four -- stretches that have derailed their hopes early.
That's what the Bullets face starting tonight in Dallas against the Mavericks: a tough stretch that will have them on the road in eight of their next 10 games, including difficult stops in Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver and Golden State.
It's not a pleasant thought for a team that has lost seven of its past eight games. But if coach Jim Lynam is concerned, he's not showing it.
"It's my hope that we do well," Lynam said yesterday. "Our play has been improving. If we can continue that, we'll have success on the road."
Lynam shrugged off the notion that a repeat of last year's 2-8 December road record would leave the Bullets in too big a hole.
"It's too early in the year, and too young a team," Lynam said. "This thing runs in cycles, and the season is too long. Houston started out great and now Houston's lost five of their last seven. That's part of it."
Calbert Cheaney remembers last year, when the Bullets entered December a surprising 6-6. A seven-point loss at Boston started Washington on a 10-game skid. At month's end, the Bullets were 8-20.
"It's important to get untracked," Cheaney said. "It's going to be a long trip. But if you look at our schedule, we can beat a lot of these teams."
The only sure thing appears to be Dec. 23 in Los Angeles against the 1-16 Clippers -- the league's Christmas gift to Washington.
Tuesday, the Mavericks beat the Spurs, ending a 16-game losing streak against San Antonio and improving to 8-6. Dallas didn't win its eighth game last season until Feb. 24, in the season's 54th game.
Third-year guard Jim Jackson (29.5 ppg), second-year forward Jamal Mashburn (24.9 ppg) and Kidd (9.1 ppg, 6.5 apg) give Dallas three of the sport's brightest young stars.
"I've always liked Mashburn and Jackson," Lynam said. "Kidd, what's amazing is his outstanding quickness. He's a force."
He also has taken the pressure of bringing the ball up court off Mashburn and Jackson.
"This year we just go and set up," Mashburn said. "It takes the weight off our shoulders. He rebounds the ball well and does a lot of little things that will help us out in the future."
Some would say the future is now, especially considering the way Kidd dominated San Antonio with 10 points, 13 rebounds and five steals.
"He is unbelievably advanced," Spurs coach Bob Hill said. "He manhandled us. He played like a veteran and kicked our butts all by himself."
If you ask Mashburn, Kidd may not have had the chance to play like that had he been coached by Quinn Buckner. Mashburn and the first-year coach feuded all last season, and Buckner eventually was fired.
"My biggest concern last year was we didn't have an experienced coach and he basically didn't know what he was doing," Mashburn said. "I was frustrated. We needed an experienced coach with some young guys. And we have it this year."
That's Motta, who had been out of coaching since being dismissed by the Sacramento Kings 25 games into the 1991-92 season. Motta, who guided the Bullets to the NBA championship in 1978, had coached the Mavericks from 1980 to 1987.
"He's a likable guy, and we really enjoy him," Mashburn said. "It really makes you look back on how bad last year was, and what kind of disservice we did to the fans and to ourselves. Everyone just seems to have new blood."
NOTES: Tuesday night's game against the Phoenix Suns, which was postponed because of condensation on the court, will be made up April 6. Bullets owner Abe Pollin will make a donation to a Washington charity in the name of fans who write him a letter and enclose a photocopy of their ticket stub. Those tickets can XTC be used at the April 6 game, or can be exchanged for March 11 against the New Jersey Nets or March 14 against the Chicago Bulls. . . . Center Gheorghe Muresan (sprained left knee) and forward Kenny Walker (surgery, left knee) will accompany the team on the trip. Muresan, depending on his progress, could be activated off the injured list for Monday's game against San Antonio. Walker might take longer.
Opponent: Dallas Mavericks
Site: Reunion Arena, Dallas
TV/Radio: HTS (joined in progress at 9 p.m.)/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Mavericks (8-6) broke a two-game losing streak with a 124-121 overtime win against San Antonio on Tuesday. G Jim Jackson (29.5 ppg) and Jamal Mashburn (24.9) each have scored 50 points in a game this season -- just the sixth time in league history that teammates have scored 50-plus in the same season. F Roy Tarpley, who spent the past three years in Europe after being suspended for violating the league's drug policy, is averaging 12.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. Washington, idle since Saturday's 111-95 loss in New York, starts a four-game road trip.