Because he is a quiet man, Phil Chenier has kept the disappointments and agonizing moments of the last two months to himself. But he admits now that a change in the Bullets' offense has slowed his progress this season as much as a pre-training camp back ailment.
"Lots of plays are different than last year," said Chenier, who scored 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets Saturday night in what easily was his most impressive performance of the season.
"We have two good scoring forwards in Elvin (Hayes) and Bobby Dandridge and a lot of plays are going down there," he continued. "It's become a different kind of offense and it's taken me time to adjust to it and learn how to get my shots off it as they come my way."
And so Chenier, in his seventh season with the Bullets, has been struggling much like a rookie to adjust to an offense that no longer is based on freeing him and Hayes for shots. Some of the plays that once enabled him to get off unimpeded shots no longer are being run and he finds himself getting fewer shots than ever in his high-scoring career.
As a result, Chenier has been forcing shots as he searched for the magic that has made him one of the great streak shooters in the NBA, Until Saturday night, that touch had been elusive.
But against the Rockets, Chenier showed none of the confusion that marked his recent efforts. He hit all five of his shots in the final 12 minutes, including the insurance basket with three seconds to go, to wind up with a season-high 20-points.
Making pressure shots, especially with defenders hanging on him and the clock just about run down, is a Chenier trademark and a sign that the man who has averaged 19.2 points a game for his career is finally returning to form.
"I still don't feel comfortable to the point I did last year," he said. "But this game felt real good. Now it's important that I don't drag down again and that I continue to improve and be consistent."
No one was more delighted in Chenier's burst than coach Dick Motta, who had expected his star guard's average to slip a bit from its 20.2 peak last season but not as much as it has (to 11.7).
"It's been a struggle for him but he's been good about it," said Motta, who has yet to start Chenier. "He's been patient and we've been patient. It was nice to see him finally break out of it, because it came at a great time."
"I don't want to hurt Kevin's confidence," he said. "We've been winning with him in there. I like what I saw from Phil and I hope he can keep it up"
One of the ironies of this young season for the Bullets has been Motta's use of Chenier. As much as Chenier has struggled (he's shooting 40 per cent), he still has been the man Motta has turned to when he needed a basket in the final moments.
"I just try to keep myself ready when he needs me," said Chenier, who has to take over more of the Scoring burden for the Bullets to have a successful season. "It upset me at times to go out and not do well. But I'm trying not to get too discouraged."
When the Bullets won 60 games in 1975, their offense relied heavily on one play. "1-C" that involved Chenier and Hayes maneuvering on the left side of the court for shots. Now, according to Chenier, things are much different.