The Washington Bullets have come to the point in the season where they must beat the San Antonio Spurs tonight at Capital Centre. They have not played a more important game this season.
At stake is more than merely a game in the NBA Central Division standings.
The Bullets have put the pressure on themselves by losing their last five games, each in the final minute of play.
During that span,they have fallen behind both Houston and San Antonio in the Central Division.
Another loss, especially at home, would greatly damage the Bullets' confidence and perhaps devn necessitate a shakeup of sorts.
Coach Dick Motta said he is reserving the right to panic or not to panic until he sees what the Bullets do tonight.
As an illustration of the importance of the game, both Motta and assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff went to Cleveland last night to scout the Cavaliers' game against the Spurs.
The Spurs who Motta said not long ago are the team he fears most in the Central Division, are led by the Iceman, George Gervin, with a 23.2 average. They are the highest scoring team in the league, averaging more than 115 points a game.
San Antonio is not a great defensive team, but by gambling a lot, the Spurs force turnovers and come up with many steals.
"Our whole game is geared to our defense making things happen," first-year coach Doug Moe said.
The 6-foot-7 Gervin is the biggest guard in the league and certainly one of the most difficult to defend against, but the talent behind him runs deep. Forward Larry Kenon is averaing 21.3 points and 10.9 rebounds.
Six-foot-11 center Billy Paultz clogs up the middle a la Wes Unseld. Guard Mike Gale is the playmaker.
Mark Olberding and Alan Bristow split the playing time at the other forward spot.
Going into last night's game at Cleveland. San Antonio had won 20 of its last 25 and trailed division-leading Houston by 2 1/2 games and led the Bullets by a half-game.
The Bullets are still in position to overtake the Spurs and Rockets, but they have to start tonight if they are to do so.
The remaining schedule favors the Bullets. After tonight's games, the Bullets have only 12 regular-season games left, seven at home. San Antonio will also have 12 games left, six on the road, six at home.
Houston also has 12 left, but seven of them are on the road. Each of the three has one game remaining with each other.
Elvins Hayes, the NBA's seventh-leading scorer with a 24.2 average, didn't start for the Bullets against Seattle Wednesday because of a sore thumb. He entered the game in the second period and played most of the rest of the way.
He is expected to start tonight.
Motta blames a lack of concentration for the Bullets' woes in the final minutes in their last six outings.
What went on in the final minute against Seattle was particulartly distressing to him. Three of Seattle's last four baskets came off offensive rebounds.