Washington's Jeff Ruland most likely will not play during the best-of-five NBA playoff series between the Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers, and the status of the 76ers' Moses Malone also was in some doubt yesterday.
Ruland, recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two weeks ago, has been placed on the Bullets' active list for the postseason. But according to General Manager Bob Ferry, there is almost no chance the veteran center/forward will play in the series that opens Friday night in Philadelphia.
"He's at the point now where he still has to increase the strength in his leg by another 20 pounds before he can even begin to start running," said Ferry. "It's something that we're going to be very slow with."
Ruland could not be reached for comment.
Malone, who averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds this season, missed the Bullets' 98-97 victory Sunday in the NBA regular-season finale because of a broken bone below his right eye. The center also missed the better part of the previous seven games. At the time of his injury, it was thought he would be able to play in the postseason.
"We're just going slowly," said 76ers General Manager Pat Williams, who would not say if Malone will be available to play. "Slowly, slowly, slowly."
Malone, wearing goggles to protect his eye, shot a basketball yesterday for the first time since being injured late in March.
Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery said he expects Malone to play Friday. "We have to prepare both ways," he said, "if he's going to play or not going to play. But I assume he will. It's a bit different preparing if he's in there. It changes how you help defensively and where you help from. He's so good that it makes a huge difference."
At the conclusion of Sunday's game, members of both teams were skeptical that Malone could come back so soon.
"You're talking about someone whose whole game is inside, where there's lots of pushing and elbowing," said one Washington player. "And when you're talking about his eye, that's serious."
Said Williams: "He's working very closely with our doctors, but ultimately it's going to be Moses who determines whether or not he'll play."
Philadelphia Coach Matt Guokas said that decision probably won't be made until Friday. "We won't know about Moses until the end of the week," he said. "If Moses doesn't feel like he can play his type of game, then it's not to his benefit or the team's benefit for him to play."
Malone could not be reached for comment, but he told the Philadelphia Daily News: "It's very strange to wear goggles. It's different. I know it will take a while, and I'm in a day-to-day situation."
Malone was not allowed to have any contact during the workout. "Sometimes, it felt like my eye was rolling into my head," Malone said.
In another development, 76ers officials said yesterday they had activated Michael Young, the Continental Basketball Association's most valuable player, for the playoffs. From the 12-man roster, they left off guard Kenny Green, acquired in a trade earlier this season from the Bullets for Leon Wood. Green has played sparingly for the 76ers.
Veteran guard Andrew Toney, who recently underwent groin surgery, also will not play in the postseason. But the 76ers expect veteran forward Bob McAdoo to play Friday night. He had been out with a hyperextended left knee.
According to one Philadelphia source, Malone's injury was serious enough that the veteran has had to be chauffeured because of extremely blurred vision.
"We'd like to have him with us, but if he's not we'll have to play anyway," said guard Maurice Cheeks. In Sunday's game, Cheeks, who averaged 15 points a game during the regular season, had 19 to accompany nine assists and eight rebounds.
The all-star generally raises his game a notch during the postseason (his 11-point career average goes up to 14 in playoff competition) but Cheeks knows his increased production will be vital if Malone can't play.
"There would be a lot of points to make up, so I think I'd have to shoot more than I normally do to help out," said Cheeks. "There would be a lot of rebounds to get, too, but I don't how much of that I'd be able to make up."
Much of that onus undoubtedly would fall upon the broad shoulders of power forward Charles Barkley. The Bullets are quick to say that Philadelphia is the team they wanted to face, pointing to their three wins over the 76ers at Capital Centre. However, in the last two the 76ers played without Malone and both were close because of Barkley, one of the most effective players against Washington this season.
In those final two games, Barkley averaged 30.5 points and 21 rebounds, dominating the Bullets to the point where forward Cliff Robinson called him "a terror."
Dan Roundfield, who tried to guard Barkley, said: "The best thing to do is to just get out of the way. You don't get hurt that way.
"Really, I'm not sure [how to defend against Barkley] because whatever I've been doing ain't been working too well. Generally, you have to make him work the whole game, at both ends of the floor, and you can't give him any easy points. In the playoffs, he's gonna raise his game another notch and so will I."
If each of the Bullets would do the same, it could go a long way toward alleviating a season-long problem for Washington -- a tendency to come out flat in important games, the most glaring example a 130-102 loss to the New Jersey Nets on March 17 at Capital Centre.
Most of the season, however, Washington followed the script of last Sunday's finale. With the Eastern Conference's sixth seed in the playoffs hanging in the balance, the Bullets fell behind by 17 points in the first half before rallying to win.
That happened, in part, because of the off-the-bench play of Roundfield, who had 11 rebounds, and forward Darren Daye, who scored 17 points in 21 minutes.
"In any situation I'll give my starters the benefit of the doubt," Loughery said. "I'll stay with them, but they have to produce. I've got no problems going to the bench. They the starters have to earn their minutes just like the subs have to earn theirs."