Lynam, hungry Bullets give early food for thought

November 15, 1994|By BILL TANTON

This is starting to get serious.

The Washington Bullets were picked to finish last, they have no superstar and they won only 24 games last year.

And look what's happening.

This team -- and its No. 1 draft pick, Juwan Howard, is still unsigned -- started with a win over Orlando.

Oh, boy, take that, Shaquille O'Neal. Shame on you, Magic.

Then the Bullets went to Chicago and won. OK, maybe Da Bulls didn't take the game seriously enough, but the Bullets' record was then 2-0.

Next came the only game the Bullets have lost -- and the one they should have won.

They blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to Philadelphia, one of the NBA's weakest teams. It's no accident that the Sixers are 1-5.

Then the Bullets came home and beat New Jersey, another 1-5 team at present. "Maybe we took them too lightly," said the Nets' Kenny Anderson.

Saturday night the Bullets won in Miami, 109-99.

The Bullets are 4-1.

They have won two of their three road games. Last year they won only seven games on the road all season.

What the heck is going on?

And how long can it continue?

I'll tell you what I think. I think the Bullets' new leader, Jim Lynam, is a good coach who is in the right place at the right time. That's paying off for him and for the team.

You see, the typical NBA team is very difficult to coach. Most teams have one or more superstars who are grossly overpaid and all but impossible to control.

I'm not kidding. Watch these guys in the huddle.

Watch how their eyes glaze over when the coach talks to them. Watch how many of them are more interested in what's going on in the stands than in the huddle.

Watch tonight on Channel 20 when the Bullets play at Orlando. Watch to see how attentive the Magic players are to their coach, Bob Hill.

The one NBA coach no player tunes out is New York's Pat Riley. Riley, who looks as if he could still use his dukes the way he did as a player, is in complete control of the New York Knicks.

Jimmy Lynam is no Pat Riley. He's not an intimidator.

Lynam is an old Philadelphia gym rat, an enthusiastic teacher and motivator who has inherited a team that's a good fit for his coaching style.

There are no prima donnas on this team. There are a lot of young players who have been embarrassed by the continual losing. The Bullets have had seven straight losing seasons.

One veteran, first-year Bullets point guard Scott Skiles, is that rare NBA player who gives 110 percent every night, no matter who the coach is.

These Bullets players are willing to listen to a coach who can lead them to respectability. They're listening to Lynam. And they're hustling for him.

The message Lynam preaches is team defense. His players are taking it to heart.

Last year the Bullets had the worst defense in the NBA. They were the only team to allow opponents to shoot 50 percent.

So far this year they're at 43.3 percent. That makes them fifth in the league.

The Bullets, under Lynam, are fast becoming a throwback team. They remind me of the teams of 20 or 30 years ago that came to play every night.

Baltimore's Paul Baker, who has coached high school and college basketball and is now a Bullets scout, has an interesting way of describing these young Bullets.

"They remind me," he says, "of JV kids who are trying to impress the varsity coach."

Whatever, it's working.

For how long?

Common sense says it can't go on for very long. Certainly the Bullets, as presently constituted, are not going to play .800 ball all year.

There's talk the Bullets will trade for Golden State's Chris Webber. I wouldn't.

A trade means Tom Gugliotta goes. Googs fits here. He's part of the chemistry that has helped the Bullets to their best start since '89-'90.

Webber, he of Michigan Fab Five fame, is a major talent, but I'm leery of any rookie who comes into the pros and tells his coach how to run the club. Don Nelson, one of the most respected coaches and men in the NBA, doesn't need that from a 21-year-old.

The Bullets have to sign Howard, who is also a Fab Fiver. When they do, he'll help. He needn't change the chemistry; he can add to it.

The chemistry will only get better if the wins continue. Also, Lynam's defense is new to these players. They should get better at it.

Two weeks ago no one would have thought so, but the Bullets could be a playoff team. It sounds crazy, but it's possible.

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