As the world turns and the Bullets search for tomorrow - and certain vagabonds wonder which will end first, the energy crisis or the NBA playoffs - the familiar lines flow on: keep Calvin Murphy from the right baseline . . . keep Rudy Tomjanovich from moving to his right . . . keep Moses Malone 10 feet from the basket . . . keep Lucas and Jones and . . .
"We know their stuff and they know our stuff," said Tomjanovich. "We know what play is coming as soon as they call it when they bring the ball upcourt. What this all amounts to now is the team that runs their plays best will win."
And the Houston Rockets are running them splendidly, or at least showing the sort of consistency - inside and outside - the Bullets need to keep from ending their season by dusk today in Capital Centre. Probably, it is time to get Mitch Kupchak into the starting linineup.
In truth, the Bullets have not played all that badly during the last two playoff losses. The Rockets, though, have been able to adapt better, especially with their long-range shooters, while the Bullets manage to come up with a blank chamber at the most irksome times.
Just when Elvin Hayes was stirring from a series-long case of playing like most mortal forwards Friday night, when he was scoring 30 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, contributing five assists and blocking four shots, the Bullet guards suddenly went sour.
Tom Henderson's twists on drives were so acrobatic as one could imagine but he missed nine of 13 shots. As Al McGuire is fond of saying, this is hopes, not a swin meet. They do not give points for degree of difficulty.
Also, Calvin Murphy managed to elude a parade of Bullet guards assigned to him whenever he chose, which was often enough to score 40 points. He is a brilliant player, quick and accurate from remarkably long distances. Friday he had help from more than his teammates.
"We let Murphy get hot by playing matador defense," coach Dick Motta complained. "Standing at the free-throw line and waving at him as he went past us. We made some mistakes in the second half that just weren't NBA mistakes."
And they had both starting guards, Henderson and Phil Chenier, on the bench and a rookie, Larry Wright, as their most effective guard during the final half. When Wright fouled out with 3:54 remaining in the game, the Bullets began melting.
For contrast, the Rockets' Mike Newlin, who sank the important shots in the four-point victory over Washington in the Capital Centre on Tuesday, missed nine of 12 field goal tries Friday. However, John Johnson contributed 11 points, seven of them in a row during one third-quarter burst.
At the moment, the Rockets are making converts by the hundreds in Jones Ramsey of the University of Texas, said not long ago: "There're a state where one prominent wit, only two sports around here - football and spring football."
Well, there were scattered incidents of scuffling as cash customers bought up all the remaining tickets to produce a sellout at the Summit Friday night. And scalpers were able to turn a modest profit, it is whispered.
The Murphy magic, its perpetrator said, was at least partly due to a change in attitude, an atmosphere in which he went out there wanting to shoot. There was no in between, no thinking: "Is this a good shot? Is this a bad shot? I just went up tonight to make it."
Perhaps the Bullets are indulging in more thought than necessary at the foul line the last two games, or at least enough to make just 40 of 62 free throws. The Rockets are 46-for-57 in the same period - and were in the bonus situation extraordinarily early in the third period Friday.
"It didn't matter what they did," said Newlin. "He (Murphy) had them off balance all night. To put it succinctly, he just did it. I didn't notice he had that many points. I thought he was just playing his normal game. But he can sneak up on you before you realize you'vt been had."
Which is why an early appearnace by Kupchak may well be necessary, partly because of his offense and also because the taller Tomjanovich has been excellent from long range and with drives against Kevin Grevey.
Indeed, the Murphys of the NBA might well dominate on occasion, but they are not the foundations of franchisers. Moses Malones are. And once again Friday, with 25 points and 22 rebounds, he showed his special skills.
"I knew we'd be good this year," said rookie John Lucas, "because I knew we'd get Moses. Wherever he goes, I'm gonna follow."