Those who believe hard work eventually is rewarded with glory would have relished what happened Saturday night to Wes Unseld and Greg Ballard.
Those two overlooked Bullets, who earn their salaries by doing the dirty work underneath the boards, the work that many players avoid, were the major reasons Washington was able to pull out a 119-114 triumph over fast closing Denver before 13,505 in Capital Centre.
It was the Bullets' fourth straight victory and seventh in their last nine games. Unlike the previous one-sided romps in that streak, this one could easily have escaped them if Ballard and Unseld, with a healthy assist from Elvin Hayes, hadn't been in the correct spots at the right time.
Unseld scored two straight field goals in the last 2:30 after Denver had closed a 16-point lead to three. The first basket came off a beautiful Ballard feed from the top of the key; the second was an offensive rebound inside Denver's George McGinnis.
Those points gave Unseld 16 to go with 11 assists and 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
Ballard, who had extra playing time because Hayes and Dandridge were in foul trouble much of the night, helped Washington build its healthy lead with 12 points and eight rebounds in the second period. His 18 points and 10 rebounds, including four off the offensive boards, almost equaled the production of the Denver bench.
Hayes supplied the finishing touches with his team's last four points and three of his seven blocks in the final four minutes. He also had five of his 11 rebounds and eight of his 16 points in the concluding period.
Although Washington was ending a stretch of six games in nine nights, the Nuggets were in worse physical shape. It was their fourth game, all losses, in five days and they were without starter Anthony Roberts, sidelined with the flu.
Still, they had enough left at the end to scare the Bullets, mainly due to the presence of David Thompson, whose season-high 35 points kept his team in contention early in the fourth.
Thompson and McGinnis, who had 27, combined for 18 of Denver's final 22 points and were helped immensely by a six-minute stretch of horrible Bullet basketball that included eight turnovers and only one basket.
That's a sure way to wipe out a large lead in the NBA. The Bullets' 107-91 bulge, which had seemed sufficient to insure a runaway, suddenly was down to 109-106 before Unseld's scoring stopped the surge.
"You can't get behind on the road and expect to win," said Denver Coach Larry Brown. "We can't get our running game going. With the problems we have, we didn't want to run tonight, but we ended up doing it anyway."
That's because the Bullets are forcing everyone to run with them these days. But, for once, they got sloppy with the quick tempo last night and forced shots off the break in the last period, which gave Denver the opening it needed to rally.
Thompson was sensational. Once, he drove the baseline, pulled up in front of the basket and dunked the ball over his head. Later, he whizzed by Mitch Kupchak from the top of key, took one large step and stuffed the ball in the best Julius Erving fashion.
McGinnis also had his moments, although he was limited to four rebounds and couldn't handle Unseld defensively at the end of the game.
"I'm not bragging for anything," said Unseld, "but I'm bigger than he is and I should be able to get inside against him and do what I can. That's my job."
Ballard had the task of defending Thompson in the final minutes after Dandridge, who had 19 points, fouled out. The second-year Bullet forward was aided by Denver's decision to go more to McGinnis down the stretch, although Thompson had the hot hand. McGinnis forced a couple of shots, missed, and that broke the Nuggets' spirit.
Washington's transition game contributed heavily to their 16-point bulge. The Bullets again shot well (54 percent) and had 30 assists on just 47 field goals.
"They substitute more freely than we do and we got into some matchup problems," said Motta. "Considering all that and the fouls, you can't knock what we did. That wasn't a bunch of slobs we beat out there."
Now the Bullets can be rewarded for their recent efforts. They don't have to practice again until Tuesday or play again until Wednesday night, when they meet the Celtics in Boston.