Although the Washington Bullets have played only 16 games this season, it has become clear that when Frank Johnson plays well, the team usually wins.
Johnson has been brilliant at times, like the 36-point, 14-assist, eight-steals game he had in Chicago a month ago and the 30-point, 14-assist game he had at Phoenix last week. And then he has had offdays like the five-of-15, seven-turnover night in the 105-99 loss to against New Jersey Wednesday.
It's all in the life of a point guard.
The Bullets (7-9) have won four of their last five games going into tonight's contest against the New York Knicks at Capital Centre. The game will start at 7:35 instead of the usual 8:05 because Capital Centre will air a closed-circuit telecast of the Thomas Hearns-Wilfred Benitez superwelterweight championship fight immediately after the game.
"We know Frank can do the job, because he has done it," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "We've told him that for him to be good, he has to think offensively first, look for his shot."
In the seven games the Bullets have won, Johnson averaged 21 points and shot 49 percent from the field, with 10.9 assists and only 2.6 turnovers a game.
In the nine Bullets losses, however, he has averaged only 10.8 points and shot 36 percent, with 7.2 assists and 5.1 turnovers a game.
For the season Johnson is averaging 15.3 points, 8.8 assists (second best in the NBA) and 3.8 turnovers.
The other top point guards in the NBA are Norm Nixon of Los Angeles, Maurice Cheeks of Philadelphia, Gus Williams of Seattle, Isiah Thomas of Detroit, and Larry Drew of Kansas City. Only Cheeks, who leads the league with a 10.9 average, has more assists than Johnson, while Thomas (22.8), Williams (20.4), and Drew (16.3) have a higher scoring average. Nixon's figures are close to Johnson's: 15 points, 8.7 assists and three turnovers.
Johnson has suffered from an unsettled situation at the other guard. He started the season with Don Collins, who is most effective in a transition game. After three games, rookie Bryan Warrick replaced Collins..
Then Bullets Coach Gene Shue went to Billy Ray Bates, who Johnson had to lead through the plays, and then four games ago, Shue went back to Collins, creating another adjustment for Johnson.
"I've had to change my game each time we've changed guards, and I think it has affected my game at times," said Johnson, "but it's something I should be able to do."
Johnson said he feels the Bullets can win even when he doesn't play well, but said, "It looks like winning comes easier when I do well."
The Knicks lost their first seven games before beating the Bullets, 88-87, at Capital Centre Nov. 12. They've won two in a row. Rookie Trent Tucker has replaced Paul Westphal as the shooting guard and has averaged 14.3 points and 59 percent shooting in three starts. The other New York starters are guard Aubrey Sherod, forwards Len (Truck) Robinson and Bernard King and center Bill Cartwright.