For the first time this season, after 55 games, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld is expecting to have his full roster of players available for tomorrow night's critical game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday night, when the Bullets suffered a heart-breaking, 104-101 loss at home to the Knicks on Trent Tucker's three-point shot with a fraction of a second remaining, Unseld welcomed back guard Haywoode Workman, who had been sidelined with a groin injury since Jan. 31.
Tomorrow, Bullets playmaker and leading rebounder Darrell Walker, who has been out for the same length of time with a strained right knee, will also return to action. This will necessitate a roster move. Most likely reserve guard Byron Irvin, acquired in a November swap with Sacramento for Steve Colter, will be waived.
With all-purpose forward John Williams slowly working his way back into shape -- he grabbed eight rebounds and scored eight points in 22 minutes Saturday night -- Unseld has been afforded more options and maneuverability in his front court.
Williams can fill in at both forward spots and, with his considerable bulk, also play defensive center if Pervis Ellison and Charles Jones are having foul problems.
The Bullets (22-35) are in a free fall, having dropped nine of their last 11 games, leaving them 1 1/2 games behind the Knicks in the battle for the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot with 27 games remaining.
Their past two losses came at home against a pair of struggling teams -- Miami and New York.
But the dramatic, last-second victory turned the Knicks into roomful of happy campers. Instead, it was the stunned Bullets who were doing the finger-pointing.
After the game, starting forward Harvey Grant said: "I'm no pointing any finger, but I'm the second leading scorer on this team and I'm not involved in the offense. I'm kind of sick of it. We're not hitting the open man. Too many guys are trying to do it on their own."
Grant came into the game averaging 18.9 points, second to Bernard King, who was third in the league in scoring (29.3) and added 39 against the Knicks.
For a number of reasons, Grant's scoring has sagged recently. Over the past five games, he has averaged 14.2 points and appeared out of synch with the makeshift backcourt of A.J. English and Ledell Eackles.
He had been playing an inordinate number of minutes in the absence of Williams and reserve forward Mark Alarie (tendinitis) and showed signs of fatigue. At 6 feet 9, 215 pounds, Grant was playing out of position in being matched against muscular power forwards.
Made aware of Grant's criticism, Unseld seemed determined to cut off any potential controversy on a youth-oriented team, that, up to now, has been free of dissension.
"This is an issue I'm going to address with the team tomorrow [today]," said Unseld. "We're going to have to talk things over."
Unseld and his assistant coaches have been generous in praising Grant's work ethic all season in his bid for most improved player. His public criticism came as a surprise to the coaching staff.