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Bullets hope Duckworth's on the rebound

Ask Washington Bullets center Kevin Duckworth about last season, and notice the blank look. Not a surprising reaction after a dismal season in which he felt he was wrongly used and underappreciated _ which may have stemmed from his being overweight and underproductive.

"When I was back home in Portland early in the summer and thought about the season," Duckworth said, "I really didn't want to come back."

And some Bullets fans probably didn't want Duckworth back, not after perhaps his worst season as a professional, when he averaged 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. His 41.7 percent shooting from the field was a low for his eight-year career, and his perceived lack of effort on the court made him a target for disgruntled fans.

But there's a slimmer model (301 pounds, down from about 340 last year) of Duckworth on display for the Bullets these days, a version that seems willing to put last season's disappointment behind him.

Duckworth _ at the Bullets' recommendation _ spent the off-season working to get in top condition.

The results are noticeable. Duckworth is nearly 40 pounds lighter, has shown a great deal more quickness, is finishing plays strongly and seems to be playing with more confidence. On Tuesday, he scored a game-high 24 points against the New York Knicks in a 113-98 loss.

And he's even getting a bit of appreciation. There were some cheers for him at a public scrimmage last week after Duckworth threw down a couple of baseline dunks _ plays little seen last season.

"It's unbelievable, night and day," forward Tom Gugliotta said. "He has full confidence in the post, he's just a whole new person.