Bullet Coach Dick Motta said yesterday he needs more consistent performances from reserve center Joe Pace and at least a combined 40 points per game from Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge for his injury riddled club to stay within striking distance of the San Antonio Spurs over the next month.
"If we can pick up a few wins, we have a very favorable schedule the last part of the season," said Motta. "You just don't want to fall too far behind."
The Bullets have slipped 2 1/2 games behind the Spurs in the race for the lead in the NBA Central Division. During the next month, the Bullets play nine of 12 games on the road, where they have won only twice in the last 11 tries. San Antonio plays six of its next 10 contests on the road.
Motta declined to speculate about how close the Bullets would have to be to the Spurs at the end of that stretch to have a chance at winning the division. But with only 26 games left from mid-February to the end of the schedule, it would be difficult for the club to make up much more than five games on San Antonio.
"I haven't felt threatened enough to look at our remaining schedule that closely," said Motta. "We aren't out of this yet, although I will admit that two weeks ago I felt we were going to win the division pretty easily as long as we didn't have injury problems."
But the Bullets suddenly developed injury problems unlike anything Motta had seen in 10 years of coaching in the NBA. Mitch Kupchak suffered damaged ligaments in his thumb and will be out until mid-March; Phil Chenier aggravated a chronic back injury and probably won't return until after the All-Star Game Feb. 5, and guards Tom Henderson (sprained ankle) and Kevin Grevy (hamstring) haven't been 100 per cent for the last week.
As a result, the club is in the midst of a five-game losing streak entering tonight's 8:05 meeting with the Chicago Bulls in Capitol Centre. A once comfortable lead over the Spurs has been erased and another loss would give the team its longest winless stretch since 1972.
Henderson may be able to play tonight. The playmaking guard tested his ankle in practice yesterday and will try it in warmpus tonight's game. Grevey, who decided just before the Detroit game Tuesday night that he would play and then scored 24 points, pulled the hamstring slightly during yesterday's workout. But Motta expects him to start against the Bulls.
Grevey said he was running at only three-quarters speed against Detroit and especially was having problems backpedaling on defense in late stages of the game. "I just felt I had to play," he said.
But even the presence of those two guards in the lineup won't solve the Bullets lingering problem of trying to replace Chenier and Kupchak's combined average of 29 points a game. In addition, Chenier is the shooter Motta likes to have shoot down the stretch of close games. He relied on Kupchak to give the club a lift coming off the bench.
"This is the time when we have to keep from getting too discouraged," he said. "We have to be as patient as possible. You have to try to get each player to play a little harder and take up the slack."
That is especially true in Pace's case. Motta told his enigmatic reserve center "how much we needed good play from him and how he should look upon what's happened as an opportunity for him. As soon as Mitch was out, I spoke to him, because I wanted him to know we needed him."
Motta would like Pace's to relieve Wes Unseld for perhaps 10-12 minutes a game, a duty Kupchak was performing. "Wes needs his rest," said Motta, "and I want to give Joe a shot every game. When he plays well in the first half, I'll use him again. But when he is listless and we lost ground when he's in there, I'll keep him out."
If Pace isn't consistent enough for Motta's liking, then Hayes will have to back up Unseld, a move Motta doesn't want to make since Kupchak isn't around to play Hayes' big forward spot.
"I'm convinced that Greg Ballard can take up some of the slack for Mitch at forward," said Motta. "Greg is getting better and better every time out. If Joe can respond, we will be okay. We won't be as strong as we were before the injuries but we'll be competitive."
The Bullets also need what Motta calls "20 and 20 (points)" from their forward combination of Hayes and Dandridge. "They've got to give us their averages and a little more every game," he said. "We've got to rely on them for some added scoring."
In the four games since the injury problem began, Hayes has scored 65 points and Dandridge, who played guard some of the time, added 81. Hayes averaged almost 14 rebounds over that stretch, two more than his season's average. He also will probably have to play at least 45 minutes a game, five more than he had been averaging.
Chicago is coming off a convincing home victory over Denver . . . Cazzie Russell, signed by the Bulls when they dropped former Bullet Nick Weatherspoon in an attempt to increase their scoring punch from the bench, broke in with six points against the Nuggets . . . The Bulls feature three of the more interesting players in the league: center Artis Gilmore, who can be a dominating force; Wilbur Holland, an Atlanta Hawk reject who is one of the league's quickest guards, and Mickey Johnson, who never played high school basketball and attended little Aurora College in Illinois. Johnson also runs well and is averaging almost 20 points a game, two more than Holland.