Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Three games ago, Coach Dick Motta told his then-struggling Bullet players "to forget all this jive you're doing and get back to reality." Tuesday night, the Portland Trail Blazers found out just what a down-to-earth Washington team can do.
With eight players scoring at least 10 points and their fast break working with breath-taking crispness, the Bullets throttled Portland, 143-103, inspiring Motta to say: "We were on vacation at the first of the season. But now this is how we can play."
Washington at its best was something to behold Whatever the Bullets tried worked almost to perfection. They ran so well that they hardly needed to set up a play in the first half, when they built a 34-point bulge. And even when Motta went deep into his reserves the quality of performance held up, much to the delight of the 6,618 fans on hand at Capital Centre.
Two weeks ago, during four-loss West Coast road trips, the Bullets were a lethargic, slow-footed, cold-shooting outfit that had Motta frustrated and puzzled. But now, with their running game unwound and their reserves supplying pizazz, they again resemble the team that won the NBA title last season.
Probably only in the NBA, with its arduous travel arrangements and illogical schedule, could a team turn around its fortunes so fast. Just 10 days ago, Golden State was embarrassing the Bullets on national television in much the same manner as Washington trounced the Trail Blazers. It was so bad CBS switched to another game in midstream.
From the opening moments last night when the Bullets made seven straight shots to take a quick 10-point lead until late in the second period when reserves Mitch Kupchak and Charles Johnson refused to let Portland make up any ground, the Bullets were devasting.
They shot 57 percent for the game, grabbed 11 more rebounds but were even more dominating on the boards in the early stages, and handed off a season-high 36 assists, including a career-high 12 by Larry Wright.
Bob Dandridge led with 24 points (and had six assists) while Kupchak added 21. But the offensive story was Wes Unseld, the usually low-scoring center who tossed in 20 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
The Bullets have put in a play for Unsled this season to take advantage of teams that try to hide weak defensive front-court players on him. He took full advantage of his new offensive role last night by getting the ball in the low post and rolling toward the basket and shooting hook shots.
"We asked him in the summer to work on the hook," he said. "He likes the plays. He should be looking for points every time now. He was the difference. Even if Portland had Walton, they wouldn't have won the way he played.
With the Bullet guards penetrating the lane most of the night, Portland centre Tom Owens was forced to drop off Unseld and help out. Unseld, left unguarded, had seven rebounds and six points as Washington built a 23-6 lead.
"It helps when the guards get free like that," said Unseld, who was bounding around the court like some underweight rookie. "I got one option on one play, that's really all it is. But I'm closer to the basket than I was all last year."
When Motta gave his pep talk to the team last week, it had lost five straight and was about to play at Indiana. The Bullets won that game, got Wright back two days later after a 14-day absence due to an ankle sprain and now have won three in a row.
Wright has helped revive the fast break, which looked a lot like Portland's once did when Walton was the pivot man. Kevin Grevey said once the guards realized the big men were controlling the boards, they began cheating on the breaks.