LANDOVER -- What Washington Bullets' fans saw at the Capital Centre last night was enough to make them cry for what might have been and cheer for what the future may hold.
The Bullets' John Williams played basketball with abandon. His body may be too big and his right leg encumbered by a knee brace, but his mind is tuned in to the game. And where his mind decided to go last night, Williams' body bounded along.
"John Williams is one of the top players in the league, there's no doubt about that," said Milwaukee guard Adrian Dantley, who had 16 points in a hometown appearance. "It's obvious he's the best talent on their team."
Last night, the Bullets beat the Bucks, 112-106, in overtime, as Williams took over in the extra period and wound up with only the second triple-double of his career: 22 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
As impressive as Williams was, what may have pleased coach Wes Unseld more was that Ledell Eackles (26 points), Pervis Ellison (27 points, 15 rebounds), Harvey Grant (18 points) and Darrell Walker (one point, 10 assists, nine rebounds) played like a first-class unit.
The Bullets began the season shakily as Eackles held out in contract negotiations and Williams arrived just prior to the start of action after a summer in which he did not work consistently at rehabilitating his injured knee. The result: His weight ballooned to 300 pounds.
"They're in decent shape now, though they're not where I'd like them to be," Unseld said. "Ledell is actually in good shape. He's 220, I weighed him myself [yesterday].
"John is still a little over, but I don't think it's hampering him. He's doing all the things he did before he was injured . . . His versatility at moving on and off the ball is what made him a special player and he is doing those things. I'm not concerned about John's weight. He played 43 hard minutes, and that's good even for a fat guy."
Unseld could not hide his pleasure with Williams, nor did he try.
"I've been encouraged by John right along," Unseld said. "He has shown . . . improvement every game. In this game, he did incredible things with the ball, for a guy that big with somewhat of a bad leg."
The surprising thing about Williams, braced leg and all, was he played with finesse. Really. Bucks Dan Schayes (23 points, 14 rebounds), Fred Roberts (12 points) and Brad Lohaus (20 points) may have taken a pounding, but Williams seemed light as air.
"Williams was amazing," said Roberts. "He hit the big shots. He hit some shots with three guys on him. He's out there falling down and throws it up and it goes in. And the shots he missed, Ellison was able to get the ball and follow up."
But it wasn't just Williams' shooting. He rounded out the lineup, kept everyone involved. Handing out assists, he made some beautiful lobs to Ellison for unstoppable dunks.
"I wasn't looking for my shot," Williams said later. "I was more interested in making sure everyone else stayed involved."
Then came overtime. The play-by-play account read like a Williams' promotional brochure:
Williams assist to Grant.
Williams driving layup. Bullets 104, Bucks 98.
The Bucks called time. They should have cried "Uncle."
"I think the statement I made in this game is that I'm on my way back," Williams said. "I'm progressing in my game -- shooting, ball-handling. It's just a matter of time."
Time is one thing the Bullets don't have. A home game tomorrow against New Jersey, a quick trip to Orlando Friday and the home finale Sunday against Minnesota, that's all there is to this NBA season.
"When I see how I'm playing now, I feel like kicking myself," Williams said, referring to his late arrival this season and his struggle to get his weight down. "A lot of other people feel like kicking me, too. But I'm going forward with my life. I'm stepping in the right direction."