The Washington Bullets, perplexed at their inability to perform in key situations, find themselves at the edge of the cliff today when they face the Houston Rockets at Capital Centre.
One more defeat and the Bullets, trailing three games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, are finished for the season.
A Bullet spokesman said yesterday tickets were still available for the 1:30 p.m. game that will not be televised. WTOP radio (1500) will broadcast the game.
Among the problems besetting the Bullets is that when they manage to plug one leak, another develops. Calvin Murphy, flooded the Bullets out of game five Friday night, 123-115, with a 40-point performance.
"I'm very interested to see how we perform," Bullet coach Dick Motta said. "We'll find out what we're made of. This is really the must game. It's identical to the third of the Cleveland series. It's the very same thing. I expect it to be a good, tough, hard game."
The Bullets spent most of yesterday flying back from Houston and did not have a chance to practice. Motta said they will look at film of Friday's game before today's game.
"We've just got to stop their penetration on the guard line. The things we have to do to win we know. Practicing won't have anything to do with it.
"I feel pretty good going into the game. There's no reason this series won't go seven games."
Another problem for the Bullets has been the play of guard Tom Henderson, a floor leader since joining the Bullets in January, but a disappointment in this series.
Henderson was four for 13 from the field and only had four assists Friday night. He also was among the Bullets who unsuccessfully tried to stop Murphy.
In addition, Henderson forced up some bad shots and was careless handling the ball.
"Tommy has to break out one of these games," said Motta. "And time is running out."
What the Rockets are doing in part, is letting Henderson go free. They are giving him those little openings, hoping he will break from the Bullets' offense and free-lance.
Rookie Larry Wright played the best of all the Bullet guards Friday, but he fouled out with 3:54 to play with the Bullets trailing by only one point.
John Lucas, the player Wright fouled, made two free throws to give Houston a 106-103 lead. Then Dave Bing threw a bad pass that led to a Houston fast break Bing then came down and missed a layup.
Phil Chenier scored only three field goals in the second half and had all sorts of trouble trying to keep up with Murphy. The Bullets' other guard, Bob Weiss, was ineffective in the two minutes he played.
The Bullets had a 10-point lead in the second quarter Friday, but blew that. The second half belonged to the jump-shooting Murphy, who scored 12 points in the third quarter and came back with 18 in the fourth.
Murphy is so quick, and the Bullets so conscious of his ability to drive to the basket that they allowed him to take long jump shots. That obviously was a gamble that did not pay off.
He made 16 of 29 shots from the field and his 40 points surpassed his regular-season high of 34. It was also a playoff high for a Rocket.
Friday's game was the second time in the series the Bullets, led by Elvin Hayes, shot better than 50 per cent from the field but lost. Hayes scored 30, his high for the series.
Friday's game was also the first time in eight playoff games this season that the Bullets' opposition went to the foul line more times than they did. For the playoff series against the Rockets, the Bullets are 100-148 from the line (68 per cent); the Rockets 69-91 (75.8).
Chenier has been the leading scorer for the Bullets in the series with a 24.8 average, followed by Mitch Kupchak (21.6), Hayes (20.8), Henderson (11.4), Kevin Grevey (8.8) and Unseld (8.0).
Moses Malone leads the Rockets with a 20.6 mark, followed by Rudy Tomjanovich (20.4), Murphy (20), Mike Newlin (15) and Lucas (14.2).
Malone leads all rebounders with 17.2 a game, four more than Hayes and nearly eight more than Unseld.