LANDOVER -- At this point in the NBA season, coaches in Wes Unseld's position usually start looking at the future, playing the bench, getting the rookies some experience.
But Unseld still is trying to win games with the Washington Bullets. Yesterday at the Capital Centre he managed to accomplish both aims.
The Bullets beat the Miami Heat, 101-96, and Unseld got to play his bench.
Harvey Grant (26 points) led the Bullets' attack, but the bench contributed 43 points: Ledell Eackles (17 points), Tom Hammonds (15) and Greg Foster (12).
And chief among those three was Hammonds. He didn't have the most points, and his six rebounds were third-best on the team behind John Williams (10) and Darrell Walker (eight).
But Hammonds stood out for his consistency and for his clutch play in the second quarter when the Bullets were playing what Unseld called "a careless and lethargic" game.
"The last half-dozen games, Tommy has shown real promise," Unseld said. "He is attacking the boards, he's more aggressive and defensively he's more active.
"I knew he could shoot the turnaround jumper if given time and space. It's the other things I've wanted him to work on and with the injuries to Bernard [King], CJ [Charles Jones] and Mark [Alarie], he has had an opportunity and he's taken advantage of it."
In his last five games Hammonds has averaged 18.2 minutes, getting 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
But his emergence seemed to begin March 12 at Charlotte, when he started in place of King, who missed his first game with a back strain. Hammonds scored a career-high 19 points that night and since then has contributed steadily.
Hammonds was the Bullets' No. 1 draft choice in 1989. He has been trying to find his comfort zone ever since.
"Even earlier this year, when I'd go into the game, I'd be so intent on passing I was almost like a robot," Hammonds said. "I wasn't looking to shoot. I didn't know what I wanted to accomplish when I went in.
"But I haven't just been sitting on the bench taking up space. I've been watching and learning. Lately, I've gotten a chance to play because of some unfortunate injuries to other people. You hate for it to happen like that, but, yes, it has been good for me."
He is moving better, looking for his shot and proving he's not afraid to mix it up under the basket.
In yesterday's second quarter, against Grant Long and Terry Davis, he scored 11 of his 15 points.
"Tommy played well in the first half and Ledell stunk," Unseld said. "In the second half, Tommy played really well on defense and Ledell finally got himself together."
In the second half, Eackles scored 16 of his 17 points while Hammonds was working against Glen Rice and Willie Burton, doing the defensive things Unseld wants, snatching four of his six rebounds and forcing the Heat to kick the ball outside.
"I think a lot of people thought when I went home to Atlanta last summer that I didn't work very hard," said Hammonds, who finished requirements for his degree at Georgia Tech. "But I did work hard. I know it's a little late in the season, but it is starting to show."
In Georgia last summer, Hammonds hired his own personal coaching staff: a ballhandling coach, a shooting coach and another coach to teach him to move off the ball and get open for a jump shot.
"I also lifted weights," Hammonds said. "I think it has made a difference. Wes says I initially was hesitant to mix it up, but I don't think that's true anymore. I'm a physical type guy and now I'm out there playing the game."