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NBA Notes : Bullets’ Big Three Are Firm Foundation

The Washington Post

Much will be said and written in the next couple of months on whom the Washington Bullets should take with their first-ever lottery pick. First, it might be time for a quick look back at the just-finished season, through the eyes of the Bullets’ coaching staff.

Recently, Coach Wes Unseld and assistants Bill Blair and Jeff Bzdelik spent an hour in a Chicago hotel room discussing the team’s strengths and weaknesses. Here, then, are appraisals of some of the Bullets’ core group, in Unseld’s words.

On Bernard King: “When I saw him in training camp I thought Bernard was going to have a good year. Conditionwise he probably came in in better condition than anybody. He was running like a deer. That surprised me. I thought training camp was tough. But he went through just about everything.

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“I think I do (have a good feel for King). I thought I got a feel for him last year. He’s a competitor. I use him in the dressing room all the time, with Ledell (Eackles), Harvey (Grant), John (Williams): ‘Look at Bernard.’ As a player, I always picked a time that I got serious about the game. Maybe half an hour before the game. With Bernard it’s really when he enters the dressing room. He’ll joke, he’ll fool around, and all of a sudden he turns on that face. You have to see it to understand.”

On Jeff Malone: “I’ve watched Jeff, I guess since he’s been here. I think I understand Jeff Malone. I don’t think you’ve seen the best of Jeff Malone. I think Jeff, unlike Bernard, is not a self-motivator.”

On John Williams: “I’ve given him the right to tell me ‘I don’t want to do this (play the center spot).’ We talked back during the summer. I felt confident that I would not have to ask him to play center. And I gave him the right ... without trying to put any pressure on him, gave the right to say so.

“It’s a helluva thing. How do you prepare for a game, and you have such short time to prepare anyway most times, as to whether you’re going to be playing the two, three, four or five position. It’s a very difficult thing. I know when I played, I was always most effective when I knew what was expected of me. And John is probably the only person on this team that really, from day to day, does not know what’s expected of him.”

And despite spending Sunday afternoo saying the Bullets weren’t going to make the playoffs, and then making his declaration come true in the fourth quarter, one Philadelphia 76er came away impressed with Washington.

“They’ve got Jeff Malone and John Williams, two of the best players in the game, and Bernard King obviously is back,” said Philadelphia’s Charles Barkley. “That’s all you need to be a good team, three good players. What happened was a couple of guys got off to a slow start, and that hurt them in the beginning, but once they got three guys going. ... John Williams is going to be one of the best players in this league for a long time.”

The Seattle SuperSonics were foundering and didn’t look like much of a playoff threat. That is, until Coach Bernie Bickerstaff reversed himself and returned Xavier McDaniel to the starting lineup.

McDaniel was a good sport about coming off the bench though he didn’t especially like it. He was put back in two weeks ago -- not for Derrick McKey, by whom he had been replaced early in the year, but for Michael Cage, who was bombed out by Bickerstaff after matador defense on the Lakers’ A.C. Green in a late-season game.

After McDaniel’s return, Seattle won six straight, ending the regular season by winning eight of 10. McDaniel averaged 29.5 points a game, 10 above his season average.

Mark Price could not work out with the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday and is listed as doubtful for Friday’s opening playoff game against the Chicago Bulls. Price, Cleveland’s starting point guard, pulled his right groin muscle in a loss to Detroit on April 18.

Noteworthy:

--Among playoff teams, only Portland was below .500 this season, the first time that’s happened since the 16-team playoff format was instituted in 1983. Is it great basketball? More likely, it’s the Charlotte and Miami factor.

--Detroit is the first team since the 76ers of 1982-83 other than the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston to win 60 games in the regular season. This is the first year since 1979 that neither Celtics nor Lakers won 60.

--And attendance was up for the sixth straight season. It increased by almost 3 million, to 15,464,994, a rise of 22 percent -- 9 percent if you take out expansion Charlotte and Miami. Attendance increased for 17 teams and decreased for six, including the Bullets, whose per-game average dropped from 10,570 in 1987-88 to 9,814.


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