Washington Bullet captain Wes Unseld is having one of his finest seasons, and has done more than anyone else in the organization to hold the team together through some very troubled times.
That has not always been easy.
Some players have become disenchanted with Dick Motta and his coaching and, team sources indicate, the mutual respect between Motta and some if his players is being eroded.
But because of Unseld's on-the-court performances and his off-the-court leadership, the Bullets have not totally collapsed and lately have shown signs of getting back on the right course. They play the Golden State Warriors here Friday night.
Unseld has called meetings to air differences and he has been a more active team captain than in the past. He says he knows why the Bullets are struggling.
"One of our problems is that we aren't mentally tough," Unseld said. "We used to be able to just show up and physically beat teams, but we can't do that anymore. There are too many good teams now. Some people don't want to admit it, but some of us have gotten old.
"The killer instinct and putting teams away when we have them down is part of mental toughness, and we've never really been mentally tough. That's why we have trouble with the good teams. In the past we could just about wear down anybody, but not anymore. This team can still beat some teams without doing anything but showing up and playing hard, but not very many."
The Bullets played one of their best all-around games of the season Wednesday at the Kingdome, defeating the defending NBA champion Seattle SuperSonics, 139-134, in double-overtime. But Washington still is four games below .500.
Elvin Hayes scored nine straight points at the beginning of the second overtime and finished with 34. Unseld's contributions were unspectacular, yet immeasurable. He played 50 minutes, scored 21 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and had five assists, two blocked shots and only one turnover.
Of the nine field goals he made, five came after offensive rebounds and three were on simple pick-and-roll plays.
The Bullets played the last 2 1/2 minutes of the first overtime and the entire second overtime with a lineup of Unseld, Hayes and Greg Ballard up front and Jim Cleamons and Bob Dandridge at guard.
Dandridge does not particularly like to play guard and Wednesday's game was the first he has been there this season.
"I was told to play guard so I did," he said.
"I used Bobby at guard because I had to go with the five best players I had," Motta said. "If the situation arises again and I think it will benefit us, I think he'll be willing to play there again."
Tuesday night in Portland the Bullets had a full-court press thrown at them and were outscored, 40-17, in the final period of a 109-99 defeat. Wednesday night in Seattle, the Bullets had an 11-point lead with 5:35 left and lost it, sending the game into overtime.
"We just can't put teams away," Unseld said.
"When we get leads, teams get desperate, so they use gimmicks and tricks to get back in it and we panic. Instead of pushing the ball down their throats, we turn it over or take bad shots, which is exactly what they want you to do. This team probably takes worse shots than any team I've ever been on."
Unseld has been averging 36 minutes a game, five minutes more than in any season since 1975-76. He is doing it on a knee that often is swollen to twice the size of his other one.
He is the NBA's third-leading rebounder with a 13.4 average, leads the Bullets in field-goal percentage and is second in minutes played, assists and blocked shots. He is averaging almost 10 points per game.
The Seattle game, played before 21,655 at the arena and television audiences in Seattle and Washington, had a playoff intensity. Both Motta and Seattle coach Lenny Wilkens called it one of the best games they have been involved in for awhile.
The Bullets jumped to a 12-3 lead and did not trail until Fred Brown made a three-point shot with 1:42 left in regulation to put the Sonics on top, 114-113.
Brown scored 11 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to lead the Sonic Comeback.
One of the most incredible plays of the game came after Ballard made one of two free throws with 29 seconds left in the first overtime. That gave the Bullets a 126-123 lead.
Needing a three-point shot to tie, the Sonics tried three before finally hitting. First Gus Williams fired and missed from 25 feet from beyond the top of the key. Paul Silas got the rebound and passed to Brown in the left corner.
Brown's three-point try bounced off the rim and over the basket to Dennis Johnson, who gathered in the ball and raced toward the right sideline, turned and fired as he was falling out of bounds.
The shot went in to force a second extra period, but it belonged to Hayes and the Bullets.