The changing of the guard may have already taken place.
Wes Unseld didn't play once against because of his painful, worn-out knees and Elvin Hayes scored only four points, but there was a new Bullet center-power forward combination cooking last night.
Bullet Coach Gene Shue says Kupchak-Mahorn doesn't quite have the same ring as Unseld-Hayes, but the young due keyed the Bullets to a 105-84 victory over the New York Knicks before 7,483 at Capital Centre.
Mitch Kupchak was a whirlwind, scoring 28 points and grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds, and Rick Mahorn, the heir apparent to the retiring Unseld's center position, had a career-high 15 rebounds and a personal-high five blocked shots to go along with 10 points as he outplayed New York's World Trade Centers, 7-footers Bill Cartwright and Marvin Webster.
"The Kupchak-Mahorn combination is something I like," said Shue. "This could have been a look at the future."
This was the third straight game in which Kupchak was played extremely well. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and re-signing him is a major priority of the Bullets between now and next season.
Mahorn is showing Shue that he can do the everyday, not so spectacular things that Unseld did not 13 seasons.
"Rick has played two good games in a row," Shue said. "He was running the court well tonight and he worked hard against Cartwright."
Bullet guard Kevin Porter, who is battling Norm Nixon of Los Angeles and Phil Ford of Kansas City for the NBA assist title, had 17 last night. Going into the game, the three were tied for the league lead, averaging 8.8 assists a game. Porter has won three assist titles.
The Knicks already have clinched for fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference and the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and they played as if they didn't have a care in the world last night. They just ran up and down the court, trying all sorts of fancy things.
It was exciting, but few worked.
They shor only 36 percent and were outrebounded, 62-49, but no one seemed to really care.
Sly Williams, Cartwright and Michael Ray Richardson all had 12 points and Ray Williams had 10.
Williams, particularly, was in a festive mood.
To begin with, the 6-2 guard lip-synched the National Anthem along with singer Norman Frazier, adding his own gyrations to it. He then went out and had a good time on the floor. He scored one basket on a reverse slam dunk and another after he out leaped Mahorn and Hayes for a rebound and, after going back up with it, switched and ball from his right hand to his left before laying it back in, falling away from the basket.
The game was close only for the first 15 minutes.
The score was tied at 28 early in the second quarter; then Kupchak scored five straight points and the Bullets never trailed after that.
The Bullets (37-42) have three games remaining. If they win all three, they will finish one game better than they did last year. They play at Indiana Friday and finish the season with home games Saturday and Sunday against Detroit and Cleveland.
During halftime ceremonies, Unseld was presented the Gold Salute to Champions Award by the United Black Fund. Also given similar awards during the ceremony were former Washington Redskins Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor and Roy Jefferson and sportscaster Glenn Brenner. Not present, but also given awards were former Redskins Bobby Mitchell and Larry Brown.