Phil Chenier checked out of Sibley Memorial Hospital yesterday, vowing to return to the Bullets within two weeks, barring any further back pain.
That's especially good news for Bullet forwards Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge, who have found it difficult to maneuver inside without the threat of Chenier's outside shot.
Opponents are double-teaming Hayes and Dandridge by dropping off a guard to help out inside. "They know with our injury problems that Elvin and I have to score more," said Dandridge. "So they are concentrating of us and forgetting about our guards."
Chenier's presence would go a long way toward halting such tactics. The Bullet guard yesterday seemed certain he would return sooner than team officials had anticipated.
"I'm feeling a lot better," he said, after ending his 13-day hospital stay, most of which was spent in traction. "The pain has gone down quite a bit."
Chenier said he would undergo treatment during the next week, including more traction, and would try "a program of exercises and light jogging.
"Then I'll judge by the pain what I do after that. But I'm aiming to be back playing within two weeks."
Chenier added, however, that if severe back pain returned, he would return to the hospital for tests and possible surgery, which could put him out for remainder of the season.
Chenier's chronic back problems, caused by a degenerative disc, began again Jan. 19 and he entered Sibley for treatments the next day. He previously had missed five games with a pulled hamstring and now has not played in the last 11 bullet games.
Until Chenier's optimistic statements yesterday, the Bullets appeared reconciled to his missing the rest of the season, even if he avoided surgery. They had formed that opinion because of his lingering stay in the hospital and the continual pain in his back despite the constant traction.
"No one seemed sure he will be able to play very quickly," said one player. "It's like they've already conceded that he's out for the year."
With Chenier absent, the Bullets are searching for ways to combat the double-teaming of their inside scorers.
Coach Dick Motta, Hayes and Dandridge discussed options after the Bullet's lopsided 129-109 loss Tuesday night at San Antonio, trying to come up with a solution before today's game at Cleveland (8 p.m., WDCA-TV-20)
"The teams that have beaten us lately have cut down on our inside game," said Dandridge, "and they've done it by making it hard for Elvin and me to maneuver when we go into the low post."
Dandridge suggested that the best way to combat the strategy was "to have us dump the ball back to the guard with more regularity.
"We have to do it quicker than we are. As soon as the ball comes inside, we have to get it out right away to them."
When the Bullet guards score a lot, as was the case in Sunday's triumph over Los Angeles, teams can't clog up the middle as effectively.
But against San Antonio, Kevin Grevey was only four of 17 from the field and Charles Johnson three of 10. Larry Wright (four of eight) and Tom Henderson (our of six) didn't shoot enough to help Hayes and Dandridge.
San Antonio, which shot 68 percent in the third quarter, also took a few off-the-court shots at Washington.After the game, forward Larry Kenon was particularly vocal, saying that he felt the Bullets, "were not in as good shape as we are. I though if we ran them, they'd slow down in the fourth period, but it happened even quicker (in the third)."
Lou Dampler agreed. "Our game plan was to make them run," he said. "We're too quick for them."
The Bullets will be going against Cleveland's revamped front line. Elmore Smith and Jim Chones, who had been alternating at center, now are starting together and Jim Brewer is on the bench.
Foots Walker is starting at guard in place of Austin Carr. And Walt Frazier, who missed the Bullets' previous two victories over Cleveland this season, is as healthy as he has been all year.