Dick Motta considers his Bullet offense a smorgasbord of scoring opportunities. "It should be sampled," he says, "bit by bit, right down the line. Then you can go back for seconds."
After almost three seasons of fussy eating, his veteran front line of Bob Dandridge, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld finally is gorging itself on those second helpings.
The trio's main course has been a fillet of points garnished by deft passes, accurate shooting and the kind of unselfish teamwork that rarely is seen amid the "Me First" attitude that characterizes the National Basketball Association.
The entire squad has grown so fat and sassy because of their ravenous appetites that Motta now says the only thing he fears the rest of the season, including in the playoffs, is "ourselves."
"I think we can handle anyone else, I really do," he said. "We are going to lose games and not play well at times but we are just getting better and better. I don't think there is anyone in the league we can't beat for another championship. So that means we have to be careful not to beat ourselves."
But the Bullets have not stepped on their own toes very much in the last month. As they begin a three-game Midwest swing tonight at Indiana (WDCA-TV-20, 8:05), they are both the league's hottest and best club. And Motta sees no reason why they cannot keep right on cooking at the same impressive pace, as long as his front line stays hungry.
"Those three are putting on some picture performances," he acknowledged. "It takes 2 1/2 to three years to really understand this offense and I've tried to tell everyone to be patient, taste all of it, then go back and pick out the best parts.
"That's what they have done. They know what is working for them and they are shoving it down people's throats until someone decides how to stop it."
Normally, Hayes, Dandridge and Unseld would not be called upon to score as much as they have been lately. The absence of No. 3 and 4 scorers Kevin Grevey and Mitch Kupchak for long stretches the last 14 games has made opportunities for all three to stuff themselves with extra points.
Their finest feast came Sunday night against San Antonio when they combined for 88 points, 40 rebounds and 17 assists in a demonstration of power accented with the proper portions of finesse and rezzle-dazzle.
It was the most significant sign yet that the three realize they can eat steak every night instead of leftovers by blending their marvelous talents within the dictates of Motta's system.
Already, Unseld has scored more points this year then he did in 21 more games last season, during which he took 63 more shots. He has made more free throws (112 compared to 93), raised his shooting accuracy (58 percent compared to 52 percent) and increased his scoring average by almost three points a game (from 7.6 to 10.3).
But his production has not cut into the efficiency of Hayes and Dandridge. Hayes' average has grown from 19.7 to 21.1 and his shooting has improved dramatically (almost 50 percent compared to 45 percent). Dandridge is scoring about the same but his shooting is better and he already has six more assists than last season in 14 fewer games.
Unseld's emergence as a more frequent offensive weapon has made his forwards more dnagerous. Opponents no longer can spend entire contests ignoring him while double-teaming Hayes or Dandridge. If they try that strategy, Dandridge will burn them consistently with pinpoint passes inside to the burly center.
Even Hayes, once a notorious nonpasser, has found an occasional dump-off assist to Unseld has made his life more bearable -- and less crowded -- around the basket.
"We've got two guys who can pass the ball," said Unseld. "Tommy (Henderson) will give it up and now Bobby is doing it, too. I always have tried to cut to the basket when I wasn't being guarded, because that is my job. This season, I'm getting the ball more often when I do.
"Sure, the more I get it, the more I'm inclined to do it. But it works, so why shouldn't they pass the ball?"
Motta's decision to give Unseld a play designed specifically to position him in the low post also has helped. Now when teams try to guard him with a forward, Dandridge comes to the top of the key (the spot Unseld occupies during most of the Bullet patterns) and Unseld goes down low, where he can get the ball for hooks and drives.
"A forward can't guard him," said Dandridge. "He's much too strong. The last month or so, teams seem to want to try it anyway, so I've been getting away from the basket and leaving that area for Wes and Elvin. We did that a lot in the playoffs last year and it worked."
But Motta's offense is so flexible that those teams choosing to keep a forward on Unseld also must contest with how Hayes plays while being guarded by a center.
"As soon as we see a center on Elvin, we tell him to take off," said Motta. "No center in the league can stay with him from end line to end line. He runs them into the ground. That's why he gets so many breakaway dunks. We know Wes can outrebound the forward on him, so Elvin can leave early.
"Then when we set up in our regular offense, we have Elvin brush by Wes on picks. Other centers aren't used to running into Unseld picks. They get tired of it real fast."
If the trio formed a business, Dandridge would be the idea man, Unseld the quietly efficient president and Hayes the flamboyant salesman.
Dandridge is constantly exploring for defensive weaknesses and suggesting shifts in the offense that will take best advantage of his discoveries. His goal is to get the best results using the least amount of energy, a major reason he passes off almost as frequently as he shoots.
Unseld has always accepted his role without complaint, even if he felt privately he was being wasted offensively. Instead of grumbling, he has applied his energies to overcome two bad knees, a sore ankle and enough weight to slow down most mortals. He remains one of the NBA's best rebounders, thanks mainly to his intelligence, which allows him to outwit, rather than outrun, foes.
Hayes, at least in the eyes of others, has made the biggest transformation. He rarely plays outside the parameters of the offense any more, deciding instead to take his shots as they develop off the options. He usually does not have to wait long for his patience to be rewarded, since Dandridge and Unseld, who rank two-three on the team in assists, are such accomplished passers.
But no matter what member of the trumvirate is asked to score points, the result lately has been a table full of victories for the Bullets. And dessert -- another title -- promises to be even more tasty.
Grevey tested his hamstring pull in practice yesterday and was overjoyed with the results. "It feels great," he said. If the injury does not tighten up said. If the injury does not tighten up overnight, he will start against the Pacers after missing four games.