It took only one game of the new NBA season for Bullet Coach Dick Motta to reach a conclusion about his front line: He feels it's the best in the league.
"This front line may be the best in the histroy of this league," he said after the Bullets crushed New Orleans, 117-101, at Capitol Centre Friday in their first game as defending league champs.
"We've got depth and versatility that's hard to match," said Motta. "I'm talking about five players who can really play. It gives us an opportunity to maneuver and make up for times when one guy may have an off night."
The usual starting front line of Wes Unseld, Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes has a combined 29 years pro experience, which can't be matched by any other league team.
But what makes the Bullets especially strong is the development of their two young reserves, Mitch Kupchak and Greg Ballard.
Ballard started against the Jazz in place of Dandridge, who still is rounding into shape after a three-week training-camping holdout. It didn't take Ballard long to demonstrate to the home fans those special talents that first attracted him to General Manager Bob Ferry two years ago.
Ballard doesn't jump particularly well and he isn't blessed with exceptional quickness. But much like Unseld, he is strong and has a nose for the basketball when rebounding.
By the end of the first half, he had 10 rebounds, including six in the second quarter. He also contributed six points to compliment 14 from Hayes and six from Unseld.
Ballard finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and also added five assists while helping to execute Motta's offense.
His performance will allow Motta to bring Dandridge along gradually for the next couple of weeks. Dandridge, who came into camp in decent condition, played 14 minutes and scored six points. He showed flashes of his normal form, including a fine off-balance one-hander that ended a Bullet fast break.
"Greg is showing so much more confidence," said Motta. "He already is doing things he didn't do last year . . . He isn't a rookie anymore. That alone makes a lot of difference."
Kupchak had a poor first half, but came out firing in the third quarter. He made his first five shots and scored 14 points in the period while adding four rebounds.
Motta plans once again to use Kupchak at all three front-court spots, which allows him to rest all of his starters frequently.
"With the way Mitch and Greg are playing," said Hayes, "we can adapt to any situation. If we need a big front line, we can put in Mitch. If we get in foul trouble, we've got two guys we can turn to. Greg is really coming along fast and there is no question he is going to be a good one too.
"That makes us even stronger I think than last year. Mitch hasn't reached his potential and Greg is just starting to feel comfortable.
"When the guards hit like they did in this one, what can anyone do against us? Their outside shooting loosens up our inside and then we can really go to work."
Although Motta thought the Bullets still needed work on defense, New Orleans had all it could handle trying to work against Washington. The Bullets were picking off passes, blocking shots and sagging to cut off the middle.
They also were helped by Pete Maravich's lackluster performance. Maravish is still recuperating from an off season knee operation and is hestitant to move inside among the tall trees.
Instead, he is content to fire up floating 15-footers. Most of those missed Friday night and he was only seven of 24 for the game. He later said he is at least a month away from being in top form. By then, New Orleans could be burled for good in the Central Division cellar.
The Bullets are off until Tuesday night, when they host New Jersey. They also have games this week at Philadelphia Wednesday and home against Detroit Saturday.