Bullet coach Dick Motta today said the club's West Coast road trip already is a success despite a two-game losing streak.
"We won't go home out of first place, and that is something I was worried about at the start," he said.
The Bullets have one more game left before returning to Washington on Wednesday, a Tuesday night contest with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even if they lose they still will be a half-game ahead of Cleveland and San Antonio in the NBA Central Division. They began the trip one game ahead of the Cavaliers.
Motta admitted he wouldn't have been shocked if the Bullets had lost all four games on the trip. "Considering who we were playing and how quickly, you'd have to think we could finish 0-4 even playing well," he said. "These are among the toughest home courts in the NBA, especially if all the teams are hot."
The Bullets easily could be 2-1 on the trip. After beating Denver on overtime Friday night for the Nuggets' first home-court loss in 17 games, and then becoming portland's 32d straight home-court victim, they had a handful of chances to down Seattle Sunday night.
But ELvin Hayes missed two of three foul shots with nine seconds left in regulation and then Phil Chenier missed a jumper at the buzzer to force the game into overtime. And after Seattle's Gus Williams gave the SuperSonics a 111-109 lead in the extra period both Clenier and Bob Dandridge failed on decent shots that would have set the game into another overtime.
"Nobody in the NBA will tell you it's easy to play three games in three nights in three cities," said Motta. "So that excuse isn't new. Let's just say I'd rather have had a day's rest between each game."
He will get his wish today. The Bullets were given the day off to catch up on sleep and to think about their first meeting this season with Kareem Abdul-jabbar.
Motta probably will be making a Christmas present to the NBA fine fund when he returns home.
After the Seattle defeat he severely criticized referee Bernie Fryer for being incompetent. He acknowledged today it could mean a fine from the league office.
"It probably won't do any good but sometimes you have to do it for your own sake," he said. "It's good to get it off your chest."
Motta was upset because Fryer had called few fouls until the end of the game and then whistled three straight violations on the Bullets, including two on hayes that fouled out the veteran forward.
It was Motta's contention that Fryer, a former NBA player who threw Motta and assistant coash Bernie Bickerstaff out of games earlier this year, was showing favoritism to Seattle because he once was coached by the Sonics Lenny Wilkins.
NBA coaches aren't supposed to criticize officials in public and Motta is careful to pick his spots when he feels it will do the most good. He would be delighted if Fryer doesn't work another Bullet game all season.
The Bullet coach said he had no intention of benching guard Kevin Grevey for the Laker game; Grevey was replaced by Chenier at the start of the second half against Seattle.
"Kevin had a bad night and he was pressing," said Motta. "But I don't want to replace him on the basis of one bad game. He had too many good ones since he began starting."
Grevey made only one of eight shots, most of which were forced.Chenier scored 16 points, but also was covering Dennis Johnson, who had many of Seattle's important points down the stretch.
Another headache for the Bullets is Hayes' foul shooting. He is hitting 56 per cent from the line and made only five of 14 free throws against Denver and missed those two important foul shots at the end against Seattle.
Hayes, a career 68 per cent foul shooter, admitted he was concerned about his markmanship from the line and is in the process of changing his shooting style after nine years in the league.
"I felt my old style was interfering with my vision," he said. "When I brought the ball in front of my face, I couldn't see the basket for an instant."
So he tried to shoot against Denver by holding the ball above his head instead of bringing it up from his waist. Then against Seattle he started the ball from his waist but brought it out further from his body before he released it, in order to keep it away from his eyes.
"I feel good with the style" said hayes. "I'll be O.K. I think I can get the style" said Hayes. "I'll be O. K. I think I can get the TAfter a superb game against Denver, Hayes went long stretches the next two nights without getting the ball from his teammates. Motta said it was something the club had to work on.
"Sometimes we forget to go with what makes us good," he said. "That's something you straighten out in practice. But over the long run we'll be getting it inside. We all know that is the only way we can win."