Joe Pace hopes there is one more spark left in his on-again, off-again basketball romance with Bullet Coach Dick Motta.
"I'd sure like to play against Seattle," he said about the Bullets' 8:05 game tonight in Capital Centre. "I want to go against Marvin Webster. I can do the job against him."
But Pace's chances of getting off the bench to match up with former college rival Webster aren't good, unless Motta has a change of heart about his unpredictable backup center.
After almost two seasons of patiently tolerating Pace's inconsistent play and his habit of missing buses and planes, Motta in the last eight games has exiled him to the far end of the Bullet bench.
Pace once was getting a regular first-half turn in Motta's substitution pattern. Now he has been relegated to mop-up duty and has played in only three contests since a poor showing against Portland Feb. 22.
"We needed Joe in that Portland game because of foul problems and he didn't do anything," said Motta. "We can't rely on him. He's so inconsistent."
So Pace sits and waits, hoping, he says. "Motta will call on me again." But he admits that he really doesn't deserve another chance.
"I'm not supposed to be out of this league," he said. "With all the stuff I've done, I should be gone. I can understand Motta's point of view.If he played me, it might be bad on the team because I broke so many rules. Maybe the players would wonder what I've done to deserve to play.
"I'm trying to stay clear now and stop breaking rules. I've had some personal problems, still do, and I've overslept. Everyone oversleeps, but not as much as I have. So now I have two or three alarm clocks to make sure I get up."
Pace's two-year contract runs out at the end of this season and although he says he'd like to come back next season, it seems unlikely the Bullets will try to sign him again.
"We haven't talked about Joe's future," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "He's done enough things where you'd have to question whether to keep him or not. He hasn't done anything malicious but we've still been more than tolerant with him.
"It comes down to how far we can go with him. He has so much raw talent, and remember, he was the major reason his team won two NAIA titles. He's a winner. But when does he sit down and start developing what he has?"
Pace says his agent will look around the league and talk to other teams once the season ends, "but I really want to play here. I like the people and I like the team. I don't want to leave. But Marvin got in a situation where he could play and look what he has done.
"I'd like that chance too."
Webster's success is especially irritating to Pace. He says he played against the former Morgan State All-America "14 times in college and we won 11 times. I was better than Marvin."I'm stronger and I can shoot better. But he came from a bigger school. Everyone knew about him. No one knew about Coppin State."
Pace may have had his best game as a pro against Webster Feb. 8 in Seattle. Motta played him the entire fourth period and Pace responded with a fine effort in the Bullets' comeback 106-100 victory. Pace finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in only 20 minutes.
"When he plays like that, you wonder how good he could be," said Motta. It has always been that unknown factor about Pace that has kept him in a Bullet uniform. Although he has been lethargic and unproductive more than he has been spectacular, he has shown enough flashes of ability to make Washington feel he is a diamond in the rough.
He remains the most versatile dunker on the team, although Elvin Hayes beats him on sheer power. But Pace has a half-dozen dunk shots that have made him a favorite of the Capital Centre crowd, which begins applauding as soon as he removes his warmups.
Earlier in the season, the warmups were coming off quite frequently. Pace went through a stretch of games where he averaged 18 minutes and eight points and got his only start of his career. But then he failed to show up for a game in Cleveland and Motta used him only sparingly until Mitch Kupchak was sidelined on February with a thumb injury.
It was during that stretch that Pace had his fine game against Seattle. Six games later, however, he fared poorly against Portland and was told by Motta "I was too inconsistent.
"I'm really not in good shape now," Pace said. "You can't stay in shape sitting. I felt good at the beginning of the year when we were playing the exhibitions. I was trying everything I could to play and I was doing good.
"I'm disappointed about how things have gone lately. People from Baltimore were coming over in buses to see me and now they've stopped. I'd really like to play in Capital Centre. The fans cheer and they make me feel like a starter.
"I know I have to get better. I have to show I can do more than just dunk. I have to work on my rebounding too. But I've been sitting so long now I'm getting gack cramps."
Pace says he's not sulking about his fate this season. 'No, I'm still cheeling for the team," he said. "It may not look like it but I am. I want them to win. I want to be part of the team."
Phil Chenier is undergoing acupuncture treatments on his ailing pack. "He's trying every way possible to get better without an operation," said Ferry. "We are leaving things entirely up to him. It's his decision what to do. He's under no pressure from us to do anything" . . . The Bullets play four of their next five games in Capital Centre . . . Larry Wright looked good in practice yesterday, his best showing yet since coming back from a sprained wrist.