BOWIE -- John Williams had his sharpest needle out for fellow Washington Bullets forward Harvey Grant after a practice session yesterday in preparation for tonight's game against the Midwest Division-leading Utah Jazz.
" 'The Mailman' [Jazz all-star power forward Karl Malone] came knocking on my door yesterday," Williams said. "I told him he had the wrong house. I said, 'You're looking for Harvey Grant, three doors down.' "
The byplay between Williams and Grant, who becam Washington's starting power forward when Williams tore his right knee in December 1989, helped ease some of the tension that has gripped the Bullets, who have lost six straight games.
Faced with entertaining three of the Western Conference' premier teams in the next four days -- Utah, the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers -- Bullets coach Wes Unseld is more concerned about his team's attitude and its out-of-kilter offense.
"I'm not ready to panic," he said, fully aware that the Bullets ar slipping from playoff contention. "I don't think cracking the whip will help. When you're losing, you can find a million reasons. We've just got to get back in sync and make the game fun again."
Unseld has stressed "getting back to basics" the past two days,
trying to revive the motion offense that made the Bullets competitive until the recent nose dive, during which they have lost 12 of their past 14 games.
"We were really in gear a month ago with Darrell Walker an Haywoode Workman in our backcourt," he said. "Then they both got hurt, and Darrell is still struggling to get his game back to where it was."
Advised that several of his players felt the ball stoppe whenever it got into the hands of forward Bernard King, the league's second-leading scorer (29.4 points a game), Unseld said, "I've told Bernard he's trying to do too much by himself, but if he doesn't score for us, who does?"
Unseld said the real problem is that players have stoppe setting picks and cutting to the basket to free themselves for shots. "We've been doing too much standing around," he said. "I want us to push the ball up the floor so we don't have to play a half-court game, but I've been forced to call a lot of plays to get us moving."
Trying to fit Williams back into the picture has altered th team'schemistry. Only in the past two games, against the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs, has Williams, the team's most versatile forward, begun showing flashes of his pre-injury form, driving to the basket for his patented finger rolls.
"Right now, we're discombobulated," said general manager Joh Nash. "Williams is getting more playing time, Pervis Ellison is starting at center in place of Charles Jones, and Walker and Workman are trying to get back into sync in the backcourt. It will take time to get back on track."
NOTES: Walker will be going against former teammate and clos friend Jeff Malone tonight for the second time this season. Malone is averaging 19.2 points for the Jazz and burned Bullets for 28 points in Utah Dec. 3. . . . Grant has missed the past two practices with a sore right ankle but is listed as probable tonight. . . . Nash will scout Nevada-Las Vegas in the Big West tournament this weekend. All the assistant coaches will be on scouting missions: Bill Blair (Big East), Jeff Bzdelik (ACC) and Chuck Douglas (Metro and Southwest).
Opponent: Utah Jazz
Site: Capital Centre, Landover, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)
Outlook: The Bullets have lost 6 straight, including the past 3 at home. F Harvey Grant (tendinitis in right ankle) is probable. F Bernard King was held to 19 points Sunday in a loss to San Antonio but remains second in the NBA in scoring (29.4 ppg). Utah has won 4 straight and 8 of its past 10 to take the Midwest Division lead. F Karl Malone leads the Jazz in scoring (28.4) and rebounding (12.1 per game). G John Stockton leads the NBA in assists (14.3 per game). G Jeff Malone, an ex-Bullet, averages 19.2 points and leads the league in free-throw percentage (.912). G Blue Edwards (ankle) is out.