The Washington Bullets said yesterday the latest medical evaluation of forward John Williams, who is undergoing rehabilitation, would not be completed until today, but general manager John Nash confirmed that Williams' return "would be delayed for at least another week and possibly a little longer."
Williams, who underwent surgery 13 months after tearing ligaments in his right knee, had optimistically predicted he would rejoin the Bullets for tonight's game against Atlanta.
But the fifth-year pro aggravated the knee running in the sand while accompanying the team on its western swing last week. Coach Wes Unseld also stressed the need to evaluate Williams' playing condition after he was able to participate in a number of full-scale scrimmages.
There is no sense of urgency on the part of Bullets management to hurry Williams back into action since the team has won seven of its last 11 games and maneuvered into playoff position. Nash and Unseld prefer giving Williams additional time to reduce his weight and improve his stamina before adding him to the roster.
Washington's front line of Harvey Grant, Charles Jones and Bernard King, with Pervis Ellison as the key reserve, will get a severe test tonight from the surging Hawks, one of the best offensive rebuilding teams.
After a 4-10 start under new head coach Bobby Weiss, the Hawks have been the hottest team in the league, winning 20 of their past 25 games.
"We made the big turnaround after Bobby juggled the lineup and made [point guard] Spud Webb and [center] Jon Koncak starters in place of [rookie] Rumeal Robinson and Moses Malone," said former Bullets guard and coach Kevin Loughery, an assistant to Weiss.
Some observers thought the benching of Malone would lead to considerable griping by the 12-time All-Star choice, compounding Weiss' task of giving positive direction to a team that was beset by internal bickering under Mike Fratello last season.
"That's what everyone was predicting," said Loughery, who had his own sparring sessions with Malone in his days with the Bullets. "But Moses has been great. He's accepted his reserve role and really played inspired ball. I think he realizes that playing 20 to 25 minutes a game instead of 40 could extend his career a few more years."
Malone, 35 and in his 15th pro season, is averaging 9.7 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing 21 minutes a game. He will be a free agent next season.
Two other keys to the Hawks resurgence have been the unselfish play of All-Star forward Dominique Wilkins and the clutch efforts of veteran guard Sidney Moncrief, who came out of retirement.
Wilkins has been criticized in past years for concentrating too much on his acrobatic one-on-one abilities, but Weiss convinced "The Human Highlight Film" to tone down his act and become more team-oriented.
Wilkins got the message. His scoring average is a more-modest 25.6, but his assists and rebounds have improved dramatically over last season.
"This is the best I've seen 'Nique play in a long time," said Loughery. "In our last 25 games, he's performed like an MVP. He's even played some center for us when we go to a small lineup."
After sitting out a year, Moncrief, 33, has become one of Weiss' most valuable reserves.
"Sidney will never be the player he was five years ago in Milwaukee," said Loughery, "but when the game is on the line, you want him on the floor. He plays a lot of important minutes for us, and he's a leader on and off the court."