The Washington Bullets, who close out their regular season with games against the 76ers tonight in Philadelphia (WTOP-TV-9, 8 p.m.) and Sunday at Captial Centre (WTOP-TV-9, 1:30 p.m.), need Elvin Hayes at his best if they are to go anywhere in the playoffs starting next week.
Much of the success and offense of the Bullets depends on Hayes, whose nickname, "Big E," could well stand for enigmatic.
Hayes will record more than 1,000 rebounds for the eighth time in nine seasons; his 23.9 scoring average is his highest as a Bullet; and his 50.3 shooting percentage is his best.
When Hayes is on his game, few players in the NBA are better.
But Hayes also has a history of playing some of his worst games in the most crucial situations.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] of a crucial contest against the New York Knicks which the Bullets lost. Asked why Hayes was taken out of the game, BUlullet coach Dick Motta said, "he just didn't want to play."
A week ago at Capital Centre, in the most important game of the season, against Houston, Hayes scored a season-low five points.Houston won, 91-85, to sew up the Central Division title.
There is a saying in the NBA that in big games, "The good players will get their average and the great players will give you a little bit more."
In the Bullets' game Wednesday against Chicago, Hayes missed three straight free throws in the fast four seconds with his team leading by one point.
It can be unsettling to a team if its fate is in the hands of a player with such a history. And when he goes into a "Hayes swoon," the Bullets are in trouble.
Motta must find a way to get Hayes to play well in the playoffs. Double standards, pampering and practically everything else have been used by the Bullets ' and accepted by teammates - to appease Hayes. Now it is up to Hayes.
He has the ball, and the Bullets are hoping he doesn't shoot a brick.
While the Bullets are 8-8 their last 16 games, they have been given a lift by Tom Henderson, a bona fide leader. After coming to the Bullets from Atlanta in a trade for Leonard Robinson in January, Henderson has become the floor leader.
The Bullets now have a strong bench led by rookies Mitch Kupchak and Larry Wright and veteran Dave Bing.
The 6-foot-10 Kupchak is versatile enough to play center, big forward or small forward and has performed well at all three spots.
Kupchak may prove most valuable at small forward. Starter Kevin Grevey has trouble on some layups and the physical Leonard Gray is almost always in foul trouble.
Playing an average of 18 minutes a games, Kupchak is averaging 10.2 points, six rebounds and shooting 57 per cent. His field-goal percentage is the second best in the NBA and the highest ever for a rookie.
Bing was struggling as the Bullets' playmaker early in the season. Motta finally benched him before the Bullets traded Robinson for Henderson. When Phil Chenier became erratic, Motta turned to Bing. Bing has flourished as a shooting guard and is now one of the key figures.
The Bullets will meet either Boston.Cleveland or San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs, depending on how those teams do this weekend.
The Bullets already have sewn up third place in the conference and will play the sixth-place team in a best-of three first-round series.
Fourth-plce San Antonio has a 44-36 record: fifth-place Cleveland is 43-37 and sixth-place Boston is 41-38. It the Bullets play the Celtics in the first round, that series will begin Tuesday at Capital Centre. The second game will be Thursday in Boston and a third, if necessary, back at Capital Centre Sunday, April 17.
If the Bullets' first-round opponent is San Antonio or Cleveland, the games will be Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.