After eight seasons in the National Basketball Association, Kevin Porter finally has become a true leader on the court.
He has played so well lately that the Washington Bullets were able to trade promising rookie Wes Matthews, and no longer are they interested in obtaining John Lucas. Coach Gene Shue has gained as much confidence in Porter as Porter has in himself.
"(Former coach) Dick Motta didn't have much confidence in me, so he didn't play me much," Porter said. "Gene Shue does, and since playing time is the most important thing to a professional athlete, that's a major reason for my success."
The small guard was at his best Friday night in Oakland, leading the Bullets to a 116-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors. It was their first success after two defeats on this seven-game trip. They will face the Phoenix Suns Sunday night.
Against the Warriors, Porter made 10 of 14 shots and seven of nine free throws for 27 points, contributed a season high 18 assists and played all 48 minutes.
The Bullets have won 11 of their last 15 games and Porter has played at least 40 minutes in 11 of them, including eight of the victories. When Porter gets his minutes and controls the tempo, the Bullets win.
"I've encouraged him to go out there and have fun," Shue said. "I know this is a job and a business, but if you're having fun doing it, you're going to play better. I've given K.P. a lot of freedom on the floor and he's responded well. He's a great competitor and he loves to win. Now his confidence is up and he's controlling the games. He's more relaxed."
The key strectch in the Warrior game came at the end of the second quarter.
Rookie Don Collins, who scored 19 points on seven-of-11 shooting, got eight of his points in a three-minute stretch that gave the Bullets a 53-48 advantage with 2:40 left in the half.
The Warriors cut the lead to 53-50 with 2:21 left on a driving layup by Bernard King. Then Porter went to work. The Bullets out-scored the Warriors, 9-2, before the half ended. Golden State never caught up.
Porter had five of those points and assisted on the other four. He started the rally with two free throws and, after a Warrior miss, fed Kevin Grevey for a layup. The Warriors missed again and this time Porter was fouled going to the basket and made one free throw.
Larry Smith scored off an offensive rebound to get Golden State back to 58-52, but Porter made a running push shot, then stole a pass and fed Collins for a fast break as the half ended.
"Motta was just too regimented for K. P.," said fellow guard Grevey, the Bullets' second leading scorer. "He's running our 1-4 offense now and he's doing great with it. We've got some good shooters on this team -- myself, Greg (ballard), Don -- and we're having a field day just following K.P. to the basket. If we're open, he's going to find us, and by him penetrating like he does it makes it that much easier for us to get open. Both Greg and myself are the type of player who moves best without the ball, so we need someone like Kevin handling it.
"He's also got that ugly push shot that's going in . . . It's effective, though, so I guess you can't call it ugly . . . Change that, make it a pretty push shot.
"In any respect, you can see the confidence in him and that fires up the rest of us."
The Warriors closed to three points with 1:44 to play, but Ballard made two free throws and Elvin Hayes scored on a turnaround to get the lead back to seven.
Shue was understandably pleased with the play of Porter, but, he said, he has come to expect that. He also was impressed by Mitch Kupchak and Collins. Those two could be the key to the Bullets' chances of getting into the playoffs. They are ideal reserves in that they both play more than one position and both are explosive scorers.
Kupchak plays both forward spots and center, while Collins palys big guard and small forward. Collins has seen only a couple of minutes at guard since coming to the Bullets from Atlanta for Matthews, but Shue said that might change.
"I'm really thinking about using him some in the back court," Shue said. "There are just some situations where I think it will really help us."