The road to recovery hasn't been smooth, but the Bullets finally seem to have overcome their injury problems enough to begin playing again like the team that was one of the NBA's best in early January.
And thanks to the unexpected development of Kevin Grevey over the last fourth of the season, a good case can be made for those who believe they presently are as strong as the team coach Dick Motto called "an elite club" before the season.
Grevey, who has put together back-to-back games of 29 and 32 points, is not nearly as polished or as experienced at guard as the injured Phil Chenier. Nor has he proven himself as a down-the-stretch pressure shooter, a Chenier specialty.
But he is bigger and stronger and rebounds better than Chenier. And lately he has been almost as deadly as marksman. He also has shown consistency, hitting for at least 15 points in 16 of the past 19 games while averaging 20.7 points.
Before Chenier (14.1 average) was sidelined in early January with back problems, he and Grevey were combining for 25 points a game at the big guard spot. In the last 19 games, Grevey and Charles Johnson have averaged 28 points.
When Motta made his preseason statement, Grevey was still a forward and not counted on to produce much this season; Wes Unseld was expected to play no more than 30 minutes a game and even Motta wasn't certain how well Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge would get along.
Now Grevey is fast becoming an established NBA guard, Unseld is pulldown 15 rebounds a game over the last 20 contests while averaging almost 40 minutes, and Dandridge and Hayes rival Philadelphia's Julius Erving and George McGinnis as the league's best forward duo.
And Mitch Kupchak, who again is diving on the floor like the Kamikaze Kid, has supplied the extra zip the team was lacking. He also has scored 22 points in each of the last two games and says his sore thumb is feeling stronger every time out.
Hayes, in particular, has adapted so well to his share-the-scoring role that he may be playing the best basketball of any big man in the league.
In the last 14 games, he has averaged 25 points and 14 rebounds, including a 22-point, 27-rebound, 11-blocked-shot display against Detroit Friday that might have been his best game of the season. The 11 blocked shots were a personal high for the 10-year veteran and a club record.
The Bullets have finally returned to the kind of basketball Motta likes. They are overpowering teams inside, dominating the boards and running when they can.And now Grevey is supplying the outside shooting that needed to keep opponents from sagging on them.
Grevey's progress, a sooner-than-expected return by Kupchak and a heavy load of recent home games have combined to shake the Bullets out of their February doldrums. Their comeback was climaxed against Detroit, when they overwhelmed the Pistons, 124-108, for their second road win in the last 15 tries.
As long as Grevey or Johnson can hit consistently from the outside to take the pressure off the inside men. Motta feels his club will continue winning. And he is even getting some welcomed help from the NBA schedule maker, who usually is hardly a hero among league teams this time of the season.
After today's 1:45 p.m. game with Houston in Capital Centre, the Bullets won't play again until Friday, when they meet the Rockets again this time in Houston.
"The break should allow some of the injuries to heal and it also will give people like Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld some rest." said Motta. "They've been playing a lot of minutes lately and I don't want to wear them out."
By Friday, Motta hopes that Larry Wright, who is troubled by a sprained wrist, will be healthy. And the rest should benefit Tom Henderson's chronic sprained ankle and Unseld's ailing kness and back.
Unseld developed back spasms against Detroit, but said he should be able to play today. Wright probably will be held out until Friday.
"The pieces are starting to fit together," said Grevey. "Everyone feels good about how we are playing. Our excuse days are over."