The comparisons are inevitable. But after the Bullets' first four games, center Rick Mahorn is starting to have the same effect on his team as his predecessor, Wes Unseld, had in years past.
Mahorn scored 19 points and had 11 rebounds and three blocked shots Friday at Capital Centre to lead the Bullets past Detroit, 86-82, for their first victory of the National Basketball Association season.
The outcome was still undecided in the final 20 seconds when Mahorn grabbed an offensive rebound and later made two free throws.
"You look to certain people to come up with the big plays for you," said Coach Gene Shue, "and we're starting to expect those kinds of things from Rick. He's got leadership qualities and, since we don't have Wes or Kevin Porter, we need leaders."
Mahorn, who says Unseld is the only person who has ever intimidated him, said he wants to be a leader, "but I feel my role is to rebound and help the other players. Nobody can live up to what Wes did."
"Rick is a young Wes Unseld," said guard John Lucas. "I know he doesn't like to hear that, but that's what he is. He's a banger."
The Bullets don't play again until Tuesday, when they will entertain the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics at Capital Centre. The Celtics beat the Bullets, 124-100, in the season opener.
Mahorn is leading the team in scoring (15 points a game), rebounding (8.2), blocked shots (1.5) and field-goal percentage (53). His only major weakness is a propensity to foul. When he leaves the floor, the Bullets have problems.
"His fouls are cheap fouls, too, most of the time," said Shue. "He's played well when he's been able to play, but he still has to adjust to the way the officials call a game. He's also going to have to refine his skills some, but he's really aggressive and that's what we need."
Shue is still trying to find his most effective lineup. He has started Charles Davis and Greg Ballard at forwards, Kevin Grevey and Lucas at guards and Mahorn at center the past three games.
His most proficient scorer has been swing man Don Collins, who has been in double figures, as a reserve, in all four games. The Bullets also have done well with Mahorn and Jeff Ruland in the lineup together.
"It may take us a while to find our most efective lineup," Shue said, "but we're making progress. As long as we keep playing defense the way we did in the fourth quarter against Detroit, we'll be in a lot of games."
The Bullets limited the Pistons to three points in the game's final 5:55 and all were from the foul line. In that final period, Detroit missed 14 of 18 shots from the field. "We just wouldn't let them get the shots they wanted," said Lucas.
The Bullets' losing streak wasn't the only streak that came to a halt Friday. Jim Chones' consecutive-game streak, the second longest of any active player, ended at 529.
"I just didn't use him," Shue said.