In the midst of the euphoria created by the Bullets' NBA title last summer, Coach Dick Motta sounded the lone sobering note.
"The one area in which we probably were lax" he said, "was our fast break. It was good, especially in the playoffs, but when you have the rebounding and personnel we have, it should have been more consistent."
You don't hear Motta talking any more about improving his running game. His concern has turned to ecstasy this season. His club has become the dashing, darling, delightful Bullets who fast-breaking as frequently as Jimmy Carter smiles and who throw as many different transition looks at opponents as Baskin Robbins has ice cream flavors.
This wide-open brand of basketball has brought fun back to the Bullets' regular season. And their exciting style evidently is beginning to catch on around Washington. The term's first regular-season home sellout in 51 games showed up Friday night at Capital Centre and another estimated 2,000 fans were turned away at the gate, creating a massive Beltway traffic jam.
The Bullet faithful were not disappointed. Washington rolled over Los Angeles, 113-103, for its sixth straight victory and ninth in 11 games during November. During that stretch, the club has averaged 126 points, shot almost 52 percent and moved into the No. 3 spot among the NBA's top oftensive teams.
Last year, Motta's squad, which averaged 110 points, scored at least 115 points in 29 games. Already this year, it has passed that barrier 14 times in only 20 contests.
Considering that the Bullets labored through a fove-game losing streak a month ago, in which they were held under 100 points three times, their current burst is even more impressive.
Golden State handed Washington a 102-83 trouncing during that 0.5 stretch. Now the Warriors will find out today in a 1:45 p.m. game at the Centre how far Washington has come in the last 28 days.
"Push it, push it," is Motta's constant cry now from the bench. Instead of walking the ball up court, as they did against the Warriors, the Bullets look for a break on every offensive opportunity. And the more success they have running, the more it has opened up their attack and made it more difficult for teams to stop their regular power offense.
It is their constant emphasis on running that has provided the charge in Washington's month-long explosion. Now every rebounder is looking to throw the long outlet pass and every ball-handler is striving to race to the basket before a team can organize its defense.
Motta has been blessed with abundant tools to utilize in the break. He has depth at the rebounding and lead guard positions, he has quickness galore to help fill the outside lanes and he has Bob Dandridge, one of the smartest in the league at finishing off a transition opportunity, as a safety vale.
The Bullets also can toss two kinds of breaks at opponents. They begin with their regular running game, triggered by Wes Unseld's rebounding and passing. Then, when Motta wants an even quicker tempo, he can put in his "go" squad - Greg Ballard, Mitch Kupchak, Charles Johnson, Larry Wright - to apply the knockout punch to tiring opponents.
And what other club in the league features two large men like Kupchak and Elvin Hayes who run so well and love to get out on the break as frequently? And what team has a rebounder quite like Unseld, who remains the consummate outlet passer in the NBA?
"With a guy like Wes, you would be embarrassed and foolish not to run," said Motta. "We didn't take full advantage of him last year. you have to lear how to position yourself to get his passes and we are doing that better now. I've never seen a rebounder with his skills before."
In one game last week, Unseld tossed three length-of-the-court strike to teammates in the fist half alone, leading them like an NFL quarterback finishing off a long bomb.
This season, however, his teammates are looking more often for his flings and releasing more quickly so they can get to half court faster. As long as they know Unseld and Hayes can control the boards, they can cheat just enough on the start of the break to gain the needed step or two on their foes.
The quarterback on the early part of the break is Tom Henderson, who is no longer plagued by the sore ankles of last season. He has an uncanny ability to move faster with the ball than without it and he uses his speed to dash by opponents and create three-on-two and two-on-one situations.
When he is fatigued, Wright, who is even quicker, comes in to rip off a couple of his specialties: court-long sprints that end as solo fast breaks, even though sometimes he finds himself facing two or three defenders by himself. On those occasions, Wright is as elusive a his nickname: Lightning Bug.
Shooting guards Kevin Grevey and Charles Johnson are equally adept at pulling up on transition plays and pumping in medium-range jump shots. Grevey has been doing the majority of his damage in the first half while Johnson, who made eight straight shots against the Lakers, has turned the fourth quarter into his own play-ground.
But perhaps the major difference in the Bullet running game this season has been the emergence of Dandridge as its leader.
"We've learned to get the ball to him on the offensive end and then get out of his way," said Motta. "Last year, we didn't give him as much freedom to work. Now, he can go one on one at the end of the break or he can find the open man."
Dandridge has increased the Bullets' running-game efficiency by being the man responsible for finishing off most breaks with baskets. If a teammate doesn't have a clear layup, Dandridge normally winds up with the ball in the corner, where he consistently finds free teammates through the scramble of racing bodies. And if the passing lanes are closed, he doesn't hesitate to pop a quick jump shot.
"I think we have to run to be a great team," said Dandridge, who has agility on the break similar to the skills enjoyed by Boston great John Havlicek. "I know getting into a quick tempo helps me."
"Otherwise, you get tired trying to grind out points every time down court. The break makes everyone a better player and it helps you take better advantage of your bench, too.
"How would you like to be a team playing us right now? We can hurt you inside and we can hurt you running. And if our starters get tired, we can put guys in who are even quicker and who love to run even more. It's a tough combination to beat."
Just ask the teams that have had to play Washington the last month. They've found if you can't catch a speeding Bullet, its hard to beat 'em on the court.