Rick Barry is safely behind them but the Washington Bullets now find themselves feeling another player who is capable of turning a game around by himself. He is Ron Lee, a 6-foot-4 rookie guard for Phoenix.
Barry, however, will probably still be on the Bullets' minds when they square off against Lee and the Suns here Thursday night.
Barry tossed in 42 points in 32 minutes Tuesday night in Oakland and the Golden State Warriors thrashed Washington, 128-04, at the Oakland Coliseum.
Washington is now 2.2 on its sevengame trip.
Barry also grabbed nine rebounds and had seven assists as the Warriors won for the eight time in their last 12 games. He scored eight straight points early in the first period to stake the Warriors to a lead (10-4) they never relinquished.
The Bullets tried Kevin Grevey, Leonard Gray, Wes Unseld and, finally, Mike Riordan on Barry. Unseld had the most success.
"When Rick is on his game, I don't think anybody can stop him," said Warriors coach Al Attles.
The Bullets, however, didn't play well. Phil Chenier made only two of 17 shots and Washington was never able to put together a steady stretch.
"Nothing worked," Bullets coach Dick Motta said. "They just kicked our butts."
Larry Wright and Elvin Hayes led the Bullets with 19 points apiece. Chenneir had scored in double figures for 22 straight games before being held to eight front of his hometown fans.
Nevertheless, the Bullets have won 16 of their last 20 and six of their last eight games on the road.
Unfortunately, Washington ran into Golden State at a time when it is getting its game together.
"We're playing with the confidence I wish we could have had all year," Attles said.
Phoenix is another team that has recently found the groove. The reason is Lee.
Since Lee became a starter, the Suns are 10-5 and, if they get by the Bullets, will be at .500 for the first time this season.
Lee has averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 steals has shot 53 per cent from the field in the 15 games he has started. He is also giving the Suns the leadership they have needed.
Lee is one of the best all-around athletes in the National Basketball Association. In addition to being the Suns' no. 1 pick, he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League and the Portland Timbers of the North American Soccer League.
He also threw the javelin 234 feet in high school.
Lee is the one who knocked Denver's David Thompson out of the CBS-NBA slam-dunk contest.
"We just made it up in our minds to make ourselves better," Lee said. "We wish we could have played well in the beginning because now we are in a position where we have to win practically every game."
Lee believes that every loose ball is his and he will fight for it. He is a tough, aggressive hyperactive player who knows no fear on the court.
"It's hard to describe the way I play," Lee said. "I try to run 110 per cent all the time and I hate losing. I'll let anybody run over my body to win.
"I don't think you ever let up in a game. That's always the way I've been."
An old rap against the lefthanded Lee was that he couldn't shoot. He scoffed at that and points to his statistics to plead his case.
"Some people have to sit and concentrate before they shoot," he said. "I don't. I can just turn around and throw it up. It's tough to get in a groove when you play only five or 10 minutes a game like I was a while ago."
Lee's first start came as a surprise to him.Rocky Sobers wasn't playing particularly badly, but coach John MacLeod was tired to his team falling behind early in games and decided to see if going with the hyped-up Lee from the beginning might get the Suns started.
"I almost fainted when he told me I was a starter," said Lee. "All I could say was, "Huh?"
Lee found out early that being aggressive, especially on defense, is to his advantage.
"I know that a lot of players don't like you to play up close. It ruins their games. That's a good reason to do it," said Lee.
The Suns' top scorer is all-star guard Paul Westphal, who is averaging 21.6 points and 5.4 assists per game.
Both of the regular forwards, Gar Head and former Western High start Curtis Perry, are hurting. Rookie Ira Terrell and Tom Van Arsdale have replaced them. Last year's rookie of the year, Alvan Adams, has overcome his ankle problems and is back on his game.
After this stop, the Bullets will play in Kansas City Friday and then, after a three-day break for Sunday's all-star game in Milwaukee, will play in Buffalo.