One of the few positive notes Saturday night as the Washington Bullets (2-6) suffered their third straight loss, 102-90 to the Boston Celtics, was the offensive performance of Pervis Ellison, who contributed 12 points in 26 minutes.
That is a modest figure, but for Ellison, who had been tentative and ineffective offensively, it was a giant step forward.
Through the team's first seven games, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward, acquired from the Sacramento Kings in June for Jeff Malone, had averaged only 4.3 points and shot just 31 percent from the field. Defensively, he had been more of an asset, averaging 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while playing 18 minutes per game.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld has prodded Ellison into being more assertive offensively. He has kept his new big man after practice for tutoring on posting up, catching the ball and making a quick power move to the basket.
When Unseld believes his message is not getting across, he enlists the help of forward Bernard King, who serves as a role model for younger players, on and off the court.
After Ellison made only one of eight shots Friday night in Philadelphia and missed a free throw that allowed the 76ers to tie the game in the final seconds and win in overtime, King summoned Ellison to the back of the team bus for a chat on the ride home.
"I was in my seat on the bus fast asleep when I heard a voice calling me," Ellison said. "It was Bernard. He talked about how he was scoring a lot of points, but only to try and win games, and how I had to become more involved on the offense to help keep the defense honest."
Ellison attempted only nine shots against the Celtics' big front line, but he made impressive one-on-one moves against Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, using a quick first step to work himself free for a layup or short jumper.
Before the Celtics game, Unseld had pulled Ellison aside.
"I just told him that the honeymoon between us is over," said Unseld, who, like Ellison, was a graduate of the University of Louisville. "I told Pervis it was time he started contributing to this team. He played much better against Boston. He accepted the challenge."
In the past, Unseld had seemed reluctant to criticize Ellison, who carried the burden of proving to Bullets fans that he was worth the loss of Malone, the team's scoring leader the past three seasons.
Ellison, the first player selected in the 1989 National Basketball Association draft, was slowed by foot injuries and appeared in only 34 games, averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Kings. At the time of the trade, Kings personnel director Jerry Reynolds said of Ellison, "We won't miss him."
Reynolds had suggested that Ellison nursed injuries and did not make himself a part of the team while recuperating.
Ellison got off to a slow start in preseason camp due to assorted foot injuries, but Unseld never questioned his work habits.
"He was practicing even when he was hurt," Unseld said. "Pervis proved to me that he's a hard worker. But he has to start looking for his shots and helping take the load off Bernard."
It is doubtful whether Ellison, with his birdlike legs, ever will become a strong post-up player. He is more of a finesse player, but has the quickness and ball-handling skills to beat most big men off the dribble.
Unseld has started defensive-minded Charles Jones in all eight games, but if Ellison begins scoring consistently, that could change.