After suffering through more than three-quarters of the season and 42 losses, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld finally is getting to watch the type team he envisioned while making plans in training camp last October.
Indeed, it was only a two-game winning streak the Bullets put to- gether last weekend when they beat two playoff-bound teams -- Atlanta and Philadelphia -- in games that went down to the buzzer.
But the manner in which they accomplished the job, rallying to win both games, playing aggressive defense in crunch time and revitalizing a long dormant fast break, had to encourage Unseld about his team's future.
Wednesday in Boston before a game with the Celtics, Unseld met with his players to discuss how a team destined for the National Basketball Association lottery should play out the rest of the season.
"We wanted to get back in sync, like we were when we were 20-23 before the All-Star break," Unseld said. "We wanted to finish up strong and look for it to carry over into next year."
Even with team scoring leader Bernard King still hampered by a sore back that resulted in 3-for-19 shooting the past two games, power forward John Williams still extremely limited on offense after missing a year after knee surgery, and defensive-minded center Charles Jones sidelined with a groin-muscle pull, Unseld got a glimpse of his team's potential.
Shooting guard Ledell Eackles, with consecutive strong performances against the Hawks and 76ers, finally is fulfilling the promise that prompted the Bullets to trade Jeff Malone, a consistent 20-point scorer, for unproven forward Pervis Ellison.
Third-year forward Harvey Grant has matured into a solid pro. Darrell Walker, slowed by a sprained knee, has proven his value as a versatile guard.
But the dramatic development of Ellison gives the Bullets the most cause for optimism. After an injury-shortened rookie season in Sacramento and a tentative start in Washington, the 6-foot-10 forward-center finally may have ended the Bullets' prolonged search for an inside force.
Since becoming a starter 17 games ago, Ellison has averaged 15.4 points and 9.8 rebounds. Saturday night, he scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots in the 102-99 victory over Philadelphia.
That performance earned unstinting praise from both the Bullets and 76ers.
"He's become a player," said 76ers superstar Charles Barkley. "I know he made me alter a lot of my shots."
Added assistant coach Fred Carter, "I guess the credit goes to Unseld, but Ellison has made tremendous strides since last year. And you've got to give [Bullets general manager] John Nash credit, too. It was a big risk trading a proven scorer like Malone for a kid who was a big question mark after his rookie year."
"Pervis is playing sensational now," said Grant. "He's rebounding, scoring and blocking shots. With Pervis behind you, you know if your man gets by, there is still a good chance he'll block the shot."
Said Ellison: "I couldn't keep saying 'I need time to get my game together.' I've been around the NBA long enough. It's time now to prove I can perform at this level."
Ellison and the Bullets (25-42) will have an opportunity to continue their turnaround when they play host to the New Jersey Nets tonight.