The Washington Bullets, who begin their last long road trip of the season tonight in Milwaukee (WTOP-TV-9) are finally getting the type of performance from guard Phil Chenier they needed to challenge for the NBA title.
The Bullets have won six of their last seven games and in those games, Chenier has averaged 27.9 points and shot 55 per cent from the field.
Chenier had his season high of 38 Sunday against Phoenix. He made 16 of 24 shots, six of seven from the foul line and grabbed nine rebounds.
"Phil is really playing well," coach Dick Motta said, "We're getting him his shots where he wants them and he is making them. With him hitting from the outside like he has been and with Elvin (Hayes) playing like he has been, we're awfully tough."
The second stop on the trip will be in Los Angeles Friday against the Lakers. The Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers are the only two teams the Bullets have yet to beat this season.
The eight-day, four-game trip will also take the Bullets to Golden State and Kansas City.
The Bullets have won 26 of their last 34 games and lead Houston by 1 1/2 games in the Central Division. When they return home to play the Seattle Supersonics March 16, they will have 14 games left and nine of them will be at Capital Centre.
The last time the Bullets went to the West Coast, they did it with an eight-game winning streak behind them and went on to win four of seven on the trip.
They went 1-6 on their first trip west.
"We have four tough games out there this time," Hayes said. "But mentally I think we are ready for it. It is a very important time for us and I think we know what we have to do. We can't afford to let up at all and I don't think we will."
As the season winds down, the Bullets, in addition to battling Houston and San Antonio for the Central Division championship, are also a game ahead of Philadelphia for the best record in the Eastern Conference and the advantages that brings in the playoffs.
"We just can't let up. We're in great position," said Motta. "Boy, if we don't have a good year now, we don't have anyone to blame, but ourselves. I just hope everyone realizes what we have here. I think they do."
Rookies Larry Wright and Mitch Kupchak are settling into their roles. Wright has apparently regained his confidence with two outstanding games last weekend. Kupchak has turned into perhaps the most versatile Bullet and Motta now plays him quite often in the last few minutes, normally a time when he prefers to stay with the veterans.
Primarily the back-up center, Kupchak has been playing more and more at small forward, mainly because Motta hasn't been getting the production he wants from Kevin Grevey and Leonard Gray at that spot.
Grevey, the starter, has been inconsistent. In the four games prior to Sunday's victory over Phoenix, Grevey had made only 15 of his last 43 shots and Motta was concerned.
Grevey started pressing and finally kicked over a couple of chairs when he was taken out of the game Saturday against New Orleans. He was angry at himself, not Motta.
"He should have been down on himself," Motta said. "He should have kicked some chairs over a lot sooner. Mr. Pollin can afford a couple of broken chairs."
Grevey made seven of 13 shots, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists and two steals Sunday.
"I think that settled him down," Motta said.
"I don't like what they are doing to Leonard Gray though," Motta added, referring to the officials. "They are taking him right out of his game."
Gray's game is a physical one and the officials haven't been letting him get away with much lately. It is starting to affect his play.
Gray hasn't scored in double figures since he made 10 points against Detroit Feb. 19. He has fouled out of two of the last four games after playing only 12 minutes in each.