The NBA is just a few dribbles past midseason, and already Dick Motta has one more victory with the Bullets than he mustered all last year with the Chicago Bulls.
"Which proves the players make you," he said.
Lately, the Bullets even have played well enough to draw a kind word from their new coach, who seems to volunteer praise as often as Bird Averitt doles out assists. After his team outran a running team, Golden State, for its sixth straight victory - and 12th in 14 games - and gained the Central Division lead from Cleveland Wednesday, Motta bubbled: "We're looking pretty good to me."
Indeed, even the crankiest consumer advocate would pronounce the Bullets a worthwhile investment once again, a pleasant blend of youth and experience and with enough talent in reserve to keep the spirit of '76 complacency from cluttering this season's show.
Although Motta speaks of "chemistry" and "esthetics," the most appropriate analogy to his experience with the Bullets seems sartorial. He is like a man who was given a wardrobe that, although almost obscenely expensive, included much that did not match.
Motta and general manager Bob Ferry have spent much of the season rearranging the ensemble, mentally at first and finally in a series of mix-and-match moves that, for the moment at least, exude the same stylish look that was in fashion here two years ago.
At the moment? Well, yes, because there is the large matter of nine of the next games on the road, and away games have a way of spoiling success in the NBA this season.
"I want us to be at a peak when we start that road trip west (after a game in Indiana Saturday and a home test against Kansas City Sunday)," Motta said. "Ordinarily, I wouldn't have called a practice (yesterday), but it's important for the new players, (Tom) Henderson, (Kevin) Grevey and (Leonard) Gray."
Grevey is a familiar Bullet in a new role, a starter if not necessarily a regular at the small-forward position that Truck Robinson considered too confining and that Nick Weatherspoon dribbled away.
"I'm not going to let one of those guys (Grevey or Gray) inherit that job," said Motta. "One of the problems was that you can't play two big forwards (Robinson and Elvin Hayes) together, and Kevin and Leonard both ought to do well there.
"Gray has a big body but he plays a small forward's game. He's a nice passer. And Henderson is picking up everything quickly. You'll notice I used him first as the third guard."
It also is obvious that Bob Weiss, a 76er, a Supersonic, a Buck, Brave and Bull before becoming a Bullet, is Motta's man, at the moment, when the game calls for a cool, if balding, head.
"There are points in the game you dedicate to the clock," Motta said, "and when you dedicate the game to the clock, I trust him."
Motta was praised for a defensive ploy against Golden State that had Unseld on Jamaal Wilkes, although the wizardry was aided by the usually accurate forward's inability to hit Bladensburg with most of his 17 shots. Also, Motta said Gray has a history of success against Rick Barry.
"Mystical powers," said Gary. "Must be mystical powers if I'm the only one that can handle him." More likely, elbows and size are the vital ingredients in that defensive brew.
Whatever, the Bullets are alive and running again. And, barring injury, they ought to get better because Larry Wright and Mitch Kupchak are er are so young.
"Larry's learning to sneak downrookies and Grevey, Gray and Hendcourt, to anticipate Wes' passes," said Motta, "and when the others are running we'll fast break like I envisioned when I took his job."
Still, the basic thread remains Hayes, who has been in one of those special streaks of power so familiar when the Bullets were so special two years ago. In the 21 games before Golden State, he averaged 25.7 points and 15 rebounds.
As usual, the Warriors surrounded Hayes most of the time Wednesday. Unlike the other dreadful times, going as far back as those four dark days in May of '75, somebody else hit the open jumper.
"The faster the better," said Wright. "That's the style I grew up on. That's the style I like best. Work hard, that's all I can do."
"That also is becoming a Bullet theme.