As have his teammates, Elvin Hayes has concluded that Phil Clenier probably won't be healthy enough to play again until the playoffs or, more likely, until next season.
For Hayes, it is a particularly important determination.
"We all want Phil back," he said, "but more importantly, we want him back when he is healthy. We'd rather see him sit out and come back next year and not hurt his back again.
"But no one is expecting him now. He's been out so long and you have to figure he's going to be hurting for a while.
"Once I decided he'd be out for good, I made up my mind that they needed more from me. I've got to give them something extra, every night out."
Something extra from Hayes means, at least off the example he has set the last three games, magnificent performances.
In those three contests, he has averaged almost 25 points and 19 rebounds, both about 33 per cent better than his season's average. He now needs only 20 points to move ahead of Kevin Loughery as the Bullets' alltime leading scorer.
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"Elvin has been something," said fellow forward Bob Dandridge. 'He's playing like a man possessed. He's giving us some kind of inside game."
All coach Dick Motta could do after the Bullets' 106-100 victory over Seattle Wednesday night was shake his head in admiration over the way Hayes had played.
"You've got to respect the man," Motta said after Hayes scored 25 points, got 21 rebounds, two assists and three steals. "He just took over the middle and wouldn't budge. And every time we wanted some points, he got them for us."
Hayes had six of the Bullets' last 10 points. Working against Marvin Webster, who had five fouls, Hayes wanted the ball down low and his teammates obliged. Webster could only watch as Hayes turned three times and scored over him.
"I feel like I have to get 15 to 18 rebounds a game and get the ball more and score more inside," said Hayes. "I can't let someone else do it. This is the time for me to play well instead of expecting someone else to pick up the slack."
Hayes brought the Bullets to the brink of victory Tuesday night against Golden State when he scored 24 points and had 18 rebounds. Then he played against Seattle like a man determined not to let the club's losing streak be extended to five.
"We played well enough to beat Golden State," he said, "and we got just as good an effort against Seattle.
"If we hustle and have this kind of intensity, we can be a good team even without Phil and Mitch (Kupchak). I'm convinced that we can pretty much make up for Phil's scoring, but it's harder to make up for Mitch's rebounding and inside game. That's why I've got to do more."
The Bullets have been anxiously watching Hayes since Kupchak and Chenier were injured. When he complained about a sore knee before the Cleveland game last week and then scored just 12 points, some felt he had given up. But after a discussion with Motta, Hayes has responded with his most consistent displays of the season.
"If everyone can play to this level, we'll be okay," said Motta. "We were alive, we wanted it, and that's encouraging because last week we didn't.I think you are now going to see a bunch of good games from us. We need two or three wins to regain our confidence."
The triumph was the Bullets' first in their last 10 road games and only their third in the last 11 games anywhere. They have contests at Phoenix Sunday and Denver Tuesday before returning home, and Motta would like to pick up at least one more road win.
"We can't use the injuries as excuses any more," said Motta. "Other teams come in and win with people hurt. We can too. And we better keep hustling."
Motta said he tried not to think much about whether Chenier would be back, but admitted he was proceeding as if "we can't count on his return. Otherwise it would be a big letdown if he doesn't come back.
"We all know that if he returns, it won't be until just before the playoffs, so we can't expect him to help us much in the regular season. It's up to us now."
Motta also was cautious in talking about the progress of reserve center Joe Pace, who scored 13 points and had eight rebounds in 20 minutes against Seattle. Motta opted to go with Pace instead of Wes Unseld in the fourth quarter and Pace responded with the kind of solid play the Bullets think he is capable of more consistently.
"If Joe plays, I'll go with him," said Motta. "That's how it is with all the players. We need him to do what he did in this one and he knows it."
Motta is planning to run the Bullets through two much-needed practices in Phoenix before Sunday's game. Normally, the players don't want this much rest beween games, but they welcomed the break from what has been a hectic two weeks . . . Hayes moved by Gus Johnson into the No. 2 all-time scoring spot after the Golden State game.