The Philadelphia 76ers try to ignore their coach most of the time and they don't always get along with each other. But the 76ers temporarily have put all that aside - it's playoff time.

Five other geams, including the defending National Basketball Association champion Boston; the league's best offensive and worst defensive team, San Antonio; the league's most accurate shooting team, Houston; a squad that can barely put five healthy players on the floor, Cleveland; and the Washington Bullets will challenge the 76ers as the Eastern Conference playoffs begin Tuesday.

The word is, never bet against a team that keeps slam dunk statistics. In other words, don't bet against the 76ers and the Doctor (Julius Erving).

"I saw Julius thoroughly beat Denver last year almost single handedly (in the ABA championship series)," said Bill Melchionni, assistant to the president of the New York Nets. "I know what he can do in a playoff series. He is incredible and (George) McGinnis can carry a team, too all by himself. Those two guys have been through the playoffs and they know how to win. If they play together, I can't see Philly losing."

Neither can very many other people.

"They are the only team I ever lost sleep worrying about (other than his own)," Bullet coach Dick Motta said. "They can turn it on at any time and then look out."

The 76ers have been in the spotlight all season. They haven't burned up the league like they were supposed to when they acquire Erving. They feud with coach Gene Shue, they feud with each other, they feud with the press. But the bottom line is spelled t-a-l-e-n-t.

And on that, they rest their case.

"Their pluses outnumber their minuses," said one NBA player. "It's a seven-game series, right? (Lloyd) Free may cost them a game and Shue will probably cost them one, but George will win one by himself and the Doctor can win three."

The 76ers and the surprising Houston Rockets will sit back and watch as the other four teams battle in the first round.

The Rockets are the classic example of 12 individual parts fitting together perfectly as a team. They get their fire from a 5-foot-10 baton twirler who wears six pairs of socks at a time.

He is Calvin Murphy and he will go toe-to-toe with anybody. "I don't get posted because nobody wants their stuff sent back," he said.

Moses Malone, the Petersburg, Va., native, set an NBA record for offensive rebounds this season. He knows his role. He shoots a short, turnaround jump shot and hits the boards.He's happy doing it.

Former Maryland All-America John Lucas gives the Rockets floor leadership.

"Man, you know we can't lose," Lucas said.

The rest of the East waited for Houston to fold, but the Rockets just laughed and kept getting better. They are young and hungry.

The San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's answer to the Runnin' Rebels of Nevada-Las Vegas, can run and gun with anybody.

George (Iceman) Gervin, a 6-7 guard who shoots 50 per cent and scores 23 points a game, typifies the Spurs. He doesn't care much what happens on defense.

But as coach Doug Moe said, "If every guy outscores his man we'll win. The object of the game is to score more than your opponents, isn't it?"

"Never count the Celtics out, never," said Red Auerbach. And now that it is playoff time, the Celtics, struggling all year are at their peak.

Charlie Scott, who broke his arm and missed 38 games, is starting again.

That enabled coach Tom Heinsohn to move John Havlicek back to forward, where he is more effective. Dave Cowens geared himself for the playoffs and now in his best health and frame of mind.

What happens to Cleveland depends largely on who can play and who can't. Leader Jim Cleamons has a bad groin injury and hasn't played since mid-March, Campy Russell is hobbling on a sprained ankle and Nate Thurmond is trying to come back from knee surgery.

The Cavaliers are a perimeter shooting team like the old New York Knicks, but they aren't as smart.

And finally, the Washington Bullets. With a lineup of Elvin Hayes, Mitch Kupchak and Wes Unseld up front, bodies fly.

The Bullets probably can go as far as the players make up their minds they want to go. They have a tendency to be their own worst enemies. If that can be overcome, the Bullets will be tough to beat.

In order to win the championship, Washington must win four playoff series.

How tough is that?

In their 16 years of experience, the Bullets have won only five playoff series.