When the Portland Trail Blazers are in high gear, they make winning look very easy. Too easy, as far as the Washington Bullets are concerned.
"They know each other and they execute so very well," said the Bullets' Mitch Kupchak. "But we help them a lot. We can play better than we showed."
Kupchak was talking about Portland's 117-104 Saturday night victory over Washington in what had started as a confrontation between the teams with the best NBA records. By the time it was over, Portland had demonstrated it wad in a class by itself, at least fot that one night.
There is really nothing mysterious about what Portland does. The ball goes to Bill Walton, his teammates screen and cut and move constantly and he then tosses a perfect for a high percentage shot or takes a deadly field-goal attempt himself. And when the opposition fails to convert its own shots, the Trail Blazers take off one relentless fast break after another.
"They have a lot of confidence in themselves and that makes it important you don't get them going with mistakes of your own," said Kupchak.
The Bullets, however, weren't able to follow Kupchak's advice. On a night when the Blazers were shooting 52 per sent and running their offense flawlessly, the Bullets were missing 14 of 36 foul shots, and were unable to convert a lot of inside shots, resulting in 43 per cent markmanship from the fields.
"You can't shoot that way from the foul line on somebody else's home court, especially here in Portland," said coach Dick Motta, whose team is the second worst in the league from the line. "You can't have 50 per cent foul shooting against the NBA's best team.
"I don't know what I can do about it, either. I've had foul-shooting contest. I've stopped talking about it, but nothing has worked, It's something you can't coach."
But Matta said he was so encouraged by some of the things he saw from his team that, "I'm already anxious to play them again. I think we'll do better the next time."
He didn't think the Blazers hurt his club that much from their set offense, but instead wrapped up the victory with their fast break. And he believes he knows how to stop the Portland running game.
"We have to shoot better and we will," ha said. "We missed easy shots. A guy like Bob Dandridge (6-to-14) will make his short shots next time.
"They let two guys (Walton and Maurice Lucas) rebound and release everyone else. If you hit more shots, they can't run.
"We also have to make them play defense. You either do one of two things, you fast break Walton can get down into the defense or you set up your offense and play for 20 seconds, not 15 seconds. Otherwise you let them get into a pattern."
Portland got into a pattern in the third-quarter, running off burst of six and nine straights points which came almost entirely off fast breaks to build a 17-point lead.
"A good overall game with good pace and excellent running," said Blazer coach Jack Ransey, whose team now is 22-6 on the road and undefeated in 32 games at home over two years. Ramsey was happy to see the running because he thought it wore down the Bullets, who had a fatiguing game Friday night in Denver.
Ramsey used both Walton and Lucas on Elvin Hayes, who was limited to 13 points. Lucas did a decent job denying Hayes the ball, but Motta said he feels the Bullets will take better advantage next time of a Walton-on-Hayes matchup.
"You have to make Walton plays forward defense in that matchup," he said. "You have to get him to come away from the basket, which will open things up."
Walton's presence underneath is a deterrent to the opposition's inside game. Washington lived on perimeter shooting for much of the night, getting 43 points from guards Larry Wright, Phil Chenier and Kevin Grevey.
But playmakers Tom Henderson, who is responsible for getting penetration had his worst outing of the season: no points, no assists, and 0-5 from the field. And he and the rest of his backcourt mates were constantly getting caught out of position on fastbreak situations.
"I know we lost but I don't feel discouraged." said Hayes. "There are things we can do next time to give them a lot better game. We're too good of a shooting team to havemany nights like that one."