The Washington Bullets fear no team in the upcoming National Basketball Association playoffs more than they fear themselves.
"We'll be our own worst enemies," coach Dick Motta said yesterday. "There are 12 good teams in this playoff and I wouldn't bet against any of them. If we play right, though, and play our game and do the things we are supposed to do, we can beat most teams and we'll be o.k. but if we go out half-prepared we're in trouble.
"If we aren't ready now, we never will be. If we aren't ready to play serve to be in the playoffs." The Bullets, third-place finishers in the Eastern Conference, will begin the first round of the playoffs with a best-of-three series against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday at Capital Centre.
The struggling Cavaliers finished the regular season with the sixth-best record in the conference and thus drew the Bullets in the first round.
The second game of the series will be played Friday at the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. If a third game is necessary, it will be played at Capital Centre Sunday.
The winner will advance to a best-of-seven conference semifinal series against the Central Division champion Houston Rockets.
Boston and San Antonio will tangle in the other Eastern Conference first-round series with the winner facing Atlantic Division champion Philadelphia. The 76ers also had the best record in the conference.
The Bullets will be as a healthy as any team in the playoffs.
Rookie guard Larry Wright missed three games with a sprained ankle, but played in the Bullets' weekend series against Philadelphia. He said he expects to be near 100 per cent by Wednesday. Elvin Hayes set out yesterday's practice with a sore hip.
The Cavaliers, who beat the Bullets in the first round of the playoffs last year, in a seven-game series, are not well physically.
Guard Jim Cleamons, the team's floor leader and perhaps most valuable player, has been put on the injured list and will not play against the Bullets. Cleamons has been sidelined with a grolin injury for a month.
Foots Walker or Gary Brokaw will start in his place.
Coach Bill Fitch will get some help from center Nate Thurmond, whom he activated yesterday. Thurmond underwent knee surgery to repair torn cartilage in February.
Blingo Smith sat out the Cavaliers' 115-105 loss to Boston Sunday with a sore leg, but he is expected to be ready Wednesday.
Campy Russell, the Cavaliers' most dangerous shooter, had overcome a sprained ankle that hobbled him for the last couple of weeks.
The Bullets have beaten the Cavaliers three of four times this season, including a 119-113 overtime victory in Richfield last week.
"Mentally, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be O.K., Bullet center and captain Wes Unseld said, looking ahead to the playoffs. "I don't think right now that there are any teams better than we are. There are some just as good, but none better."
The Bullets have known for more than a week that they could finish no better or rose than third in the Eastern Conference. When they lost to the Rockets at Capital Center April 1, their place was established.
Motta used the remaining five games to get everyone ready for the playoffs, yet not work anyone too hard. The Bullets won four of those games and Motta said he accomplished his goal.
"I gave Mike (Riordan), Dave (Bing) and Mitch (Kupchak) the time they needed and Larry got some time, too. I feel the bench is ready now," Motta said. "There is no one we can't go to and expect them to be sharp."
The player Motta is most concerned with is guard Phil Chenier. Much of the Bullets' offense is designed for him and the 6-foot-3 all-star guard had one terrible shooting stretch late in the season.
Chenier suffered through seven games in which he shot only 16 per cent from the field and averaged 12.5 points a game.
He returned to form for three games, but then shot one for nine against the 76ers in Philadelphia Saturday night.
He ended the regular season with a 12-of-19 day and 29 points against the 76ers in Sunday's 131-121 Washington victory.
"I think he's out of his slump now," the coach said.
"We've got a new outlook now," Chenier added. "It's the playoffs now so its a new season. You can't look back, but I think if we might have had a little more punch from me in some of those games late in the year, we may have been able to win the conference or at least the division.
"Every year you can ollk back on one or two games and see that they made the difference."
The Bullets finished the regular season at 48-34, the same as a year ago. Philadelphia, the conference and Atlantic Division champion, was 50-32 and the Central Division champion Rockets were 49-33.