The Washington Bullets finished the first half of the 1990-91 National Basketball Association season with ambivalent feelings.
On the upside, few forecasters figured the rebuilding Bullets, minus rehabilitating forward John Williams, would be 18-23 at this point, tied for the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference and a spot in the playoffs.
The downside is that the Bullets had a chance to gain ground on the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers in the playoff race but lost consecutive home games to the Pacers and struggling Dallas Mavericks during the weekend.
"We lost two games we should have won," said forward Harvey Grant, one of the pluses this season with his improved scoring (19.3) and rebounding (7.5) "We just didn't put those teams away. We haven't developed a killer's instinct."
Bullets coach Wes Unseld was less critical.
"I'm not ready to make any real assessments about the season so far," he said, "but taking a quick look at it, I think I have a lot to be pleased about.
"This group of players has worked very hard. I've been playing most of our starters a lot more minutes than I want to the last dozen games, and I think that has resulted in Bernard King and Darrell Walker wearing down a bit."
Supporting the theory that most competitive NBA teams employ only eight or nine players, Unseld has made less use of his bench in recent weeks.
Rookie guard A.J. English, who showed the ability to score, has seen scant action while Unseld has tried to get a late-arriving Ledell Eackles into playing shape.
With Williams expected to return after the Feb. 10 All-Star Game, there is little likelihood of the Bullets trying to engineer a major trade. With his skills as a scorer, rebounder and passer, the 6-foot-9 forward is viewed as the team's most versatile performer.
"I don't like pushing buttons at this stage," said general manager John Nash. "We don't want to get pushed into making decisions until we have time to to evaluate John Williams and what he adds to our team.
"But, at the same time, we realize it could take six weeks for John to get in top condition and used to playing with new people like Haywoode Workman and Pervis Ellison."
Nash said he believes the Bullets will continue to improve with the maturation of young players such as Workman, Ellison and English.
"If this group we have now can stay intact and free of serious injuries, we'll be very competitive," Nash said. "Right now, I can't see any trade on the horizon that would give us the home-court advantage in the playoffs. But if we were to go into a sudden tailspin, we might have to re-evaluate our situation."