Elvin Hayes vowed before the National Basketball Association season began that he would be a new Big E. He has kept his promise.
"Elvin is something," Bullet coach Dick Motta said in admiration after Hayes made 14 of 20 shots from the field and scored 34 points with 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Bullets' 116-104 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night.
The previous night in Seattle, Hayes made 12 of 20 shots from the field on his way to 32 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots as the Bullets beat the SuperSonics, 109-106
"'E' has to be the best player in the league right now for what he is doing for his team," Motta said.
The Bullets, largely thanks to the new Hayes, are the hottest team in the NBA. They are greeted on the road by advanced billing calling them one of the three best teams in the league, along with Denver and Philadelphia.
The back-to-back victories in Seattle and Portland gave the Bullets 16 victories in their last 19 games. They have won 10 of their last 11 and six of the last seven road games.
After two days of rest here, they will take on the Golden State Warriors Tuesday in Oakland.
Portland played Saturday without center Bill Walton, the NBA's leading rebounder and shot-blocker. "They missed him," Motta acknowledged, "but I think we would have won anyway."
The Bullets started this seven-game road trip in Denver Wednesday and the Nuggets snapped their eight-game winning streak. The Bullets looked and played tired, but were sharp in Seattle and Portland.
"We're loose," Motta said. "Coming out on this road trip and winning two of the first three is really encouraging. We can play with anybody.
"We have only 15 road games left now and 18 at home and we are in first place in our division. I feel good."
The Bullets' 29-20, lead the Central Division by two games over Cleveland and Houston.
The Bullets are displaying a great deal of teamwork, versatility and flexibility.
"I enjoy more maneuverability with this team than at any time. I've been coaching basketball," Motta said.
The key is Hayes. He is scoring more, rebounding more, blocking more shots and shooting better than he did a year ago.
"This is our quickest and most flexible team ever," Hayes said. "Everybody is doing his job, and we have so many combinations we can go to. But when we get in real trouble, they can always come to me."
The Bullets trailed Portland in the third quarter Saturday, and they got the ball to Hayes. He scored 10 of their last 12 points in the period to give them a two-point edge going into the final stanza. They went on to blow out the Blazers.
The Seattle, Hayes got seven of the Bullets' last 10 points in a much closer game.
"Elvin is great," guard Tom Henderson said. "When you play against him, you fear him, but you have to play with him to really appreciate what he does. In the last two games he showed me stuff I had never seen before."
Henderson has also found his place. He came to the Bullets from Atlanta in exchange for Leonard Robinson eight games ago and the Bullets are 7-1 since then.
Henderson is not a great shooter, but he is a strong defensive guard, an outstanding passer and floor leader and has a strong drive to the basket.
Henderson scored 12 points in the fourth quarter against Portland. "I'm starting to feel that I know what he (Motta) wants," Henderson said.
Henderson is perhaps at his best on the break. "I never had guys in Atlanta who could run with me on the break like the people here do," he said. "Some of my passes are hard to handle so it's a treat for me to be here where people can run with me. When a guy does get out and run with me on the break I want to reward him with the ball."
As pleased as Henderson is, no one could be more content than Hayes.
"Sure I'm happy," he said. "I've never been on a team before where we worked so hard and played so well as a unit."