Bullet Coach Dick Motta is not ready to say all of his team's problems have been solved, but he did concede yesterday that things are looking up after Saturday night's 122-114 victory over the Houston rockets.
That triumph improved the strugling Bullets' home record to 9-8 and brought them to 14-16 for the season.
"If we continue to hustle like we did Saturday, then I have no complaints," Motta said.
The Bullets played with the intensity and enthusiasm that has been lacking all too often in recent weeks. Inspired by a 34-point effort from Elvin Hayes and strong all-around performances by Greg Ballard, Mitch Kupchak and Larry Wright, the Bullets silenced the Capital Centre boobirds.
Kupchak has been brought along slowly since returning from back surgery last month and Saturday night he played as well as he has all season.
He was on the court practicaly the entire second quarter, scoring 11 points that period. For the night, he made five of six shots and was starting to show some of the confidence that made him one of the best sixth men in the league last season.
Kupchak still tires quickly and doesn't have his full mobility. Motta said, however, that it is time to start working Kupchak into the lineup more frequently.
"I played him 11 straight minutes Saturday, which might have been a couple too long," Motta said. "I want to try and keep him down to about eight or nine minutes at a time for awhile, but he was doing so good I left him in.
"It's so important to us that he come back, but we can't expect him to be in the same spot he was before he got hurt. It will take time. Everyone has to be patient."
Wright, without the burden of playing as just the playmaker, turned in perhaps his best performance of the season with 16 points, seven assists and only one turnover.
When the Bullets acqured Jim Cleamons, Wright was pushed down to the fifth guard spot, which severely cut into his playing time. But Cleamons' arrival may help Wright more than it will hurt him.
With Cleamons and Kevin Porter as the primary playmakers, Wright can get more time as the shooting guard.
"When he's in with Cleamons or Kevin Porter, we want him to shoot the ball," Motta said. "If he's in with Roger (Phegley) or (Kevin) Grevey, he has to handle the ball more. I met with him after the game and told him we need him to do both."
Wright gave the bullets a bit of a scare late in the game when he hurt his foot and had to come out. but he should be able to practice today. The victory over the Rockets was accomplished without leading scorer Bob Dandridge, who is out indefinitely while nursing a sore back and a sore knee.
Ballard stepped in and scored 17 points, with 12 rebounds, four steals and six assists. He also did a good defensive job on Rick Barry.
Ballard has started seven games this season. He played 38 minutes Saturday, his longest stint of the season.
"He's the type of guy who needs his minutes," Motta said. "His shooting was off a bit Saturday, but that doesn't bother me. If he keeps playing like he is, it's going to force us to give him more minutes."
Ballard, Wes Unseld, Porter and Dave Corzine are the only bullets to have played in all 30 games this season.
The Bullets now start a stretch of four games in five days with a nationally televised 12:40 p.m. game against the Philadelphia 76ers Christmas Day at Capital Centre. They travel to New Jersey Wednesday to face the Nets; return to Capital Centre Thursday to play the Milwaukee Bucks; have a day off Friday and play at Capital Centre Saturday against the San Diego Clippers.