In a recent game against the Indiana Pacers, Bullet forward Leonard Gray was sent sprawling to the floor.

He came to a sitting position and cast an evil eye on Indiana's Steve Green, the man he suspected of knocking him down.

No foul was called, but Green spent the next five minutes pleading with Gray.

"Honest, Leonard, I wouldn't push you!" Green claimed. "I wouldn't do that. Honest, Leonard, I wouldn't. It wasn't me.

That is the effect Gray has on most players around the National Basketball Association - nobody wants to tangle with him.

While others have nicknames like Dr. J. Slick, Dr. Dunk, Truck or Pistol, Gray is simply called Mister.

"I love Leonard Gray," assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "He is just what we needed on this team, an enforcer, a tough, mean guy, somebody that everybody knows will protect his teammates. A lot of people are just plain afraid of him."

When Gray was acquired from Seattle for Nick Weatherspoon in mid-December, the Bullets were floundering with a 10-13 record. Going into Tuesday night's game against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, their record since Gray's arrival has been 19-7.

Gray is a modest 6-foot-8, 240-pounder from Long Beach State. He was a starter for the Sonics virtually since his rookie year three seasons ago. Bill Russell benched him two weeks before he was traded to Washington.Gray had a "small" knee injury when he was replaced by Mike Bantom in the Sonic lineup. Gray recovered quickly, but never regained his job. Ironically, Bantom soon lost his job to the man traded for Gray, Weatherspoon. Bantom is now with the New York Nets.

Gray chuckled at his reputation for being man.

"I don't look at myself that way," he said. "I don't go out with that in mind. I don't really think about the game in physical aspects. It's just something that happens. In other words, there's no premeditation.

"This whole thing about me being so tough has come about mainly because of my looks. My dimples buffer it a bit, but my eyebrows come together and that gives me a sinister look.

"Everybody has to have an image and it's just as well that I have that one," he said.

Gray points out that he has never hit anybody with his fists during a game. One reason for that may be the Steve Green principle: Most players go out of their way to stay away from Gray.

"That's beautiful," Gray said. "That's just what you want, just enough reputation so they know not to mess with you."

What separates Gray from most NBA enforcers is that he's a player first and a tough guy second.

"Leonard is tough, all right, but he's also a great passer, a scorer, and he is clever. He is some kind of player," said Bickerstaff, one of Gray's biggest supporters.

Head coach Dick Motta calls Gray the best passing forward in the league.

After a recent rough stretch in which he fouled out of two straight games in a total of 26 minutes, Gray has registered 10 assists the last two games.

"I do have a treacherous foul record," he said. "I really didn't know what to expect when I first came here. Now I know we have some excellent offensive players here. What was missing was someone to distribute things.

"My goal isn't to look for the shot. If it's there I'll take it. I pride myself in that I can see a guy getting open and get the ball to him. When a guy is in position and open, you have to get him the ball. That's how you win games."

Once the Bullets found that Gray would find them if they were open, they started working harder to get clear. That cut down the Bullets' tendency to stand around that used to plague them.

The Bullets are the hottest team in the NBA, having won 16 of their last 19 games. That includes 10 of their last 11.

The Warriors also are playing their best basketball of the season. They have won seven of their last 11 and scored a season-high 138 points in their last outing, a lopsided victory over Milwaukee Sunday.

Forward Jamaal Wilkes has missed the last three games with a strained ligament in his foot. He will probably return to action Tuesday. If he doesn't Dwight Davis will take his place.

This will be the fourth game of the Bullet's seven-game road trip. They play in Phoenix Thursday, Kansas City Friday and Buffalo next Tuesday.