If the Bullets play before home crowds of at least 12,000, prevent opponents from scoring 100 points and have at least one day's rest between games, they are a joy to be hold.
But let the defense break down, the crowds get small, and the schedule burdensome, and then toss in a few crippling injuries, and Washington plays no better than the National Basketball Association's worst clubs.
This roller-coaster personality is illustrated by the Bullets' streaky play since October. They've had five losing streaks ranging from three to five games intermingled with six winning streaks of from three to five games.
They started March with four wins in a row, then lost three straight and rallied to win four in a row before losing to New Jersey Sunday.
"We just don't want to keep winning, I guess," said perplexed Coach Dick Motta. "We get up to four or five and then we lose. We haven't had a killer instinct from the very start of the season and it's hurt us."
Apparently the Bullets are hams. When Capital Centre crowds have topped the 12,000 mark this season, they've turned on the charm and won all 12 times.
But when the Centre turnstiles slows, the Bullets have responded by losing to the likes of the Nets (twice), Indiana and Detroit. The two Nets games attracted gathering, of 5,744 and 5,750; Indiana drew 8,196 and Detroit 6,717.
Washington also has been kind to downtrodden teams on the road. The Bullets have lost at Indiana, Kansas City, Houston, Buffalo and Boston. In all, they have won only 14 of 22 contests againt the six worst NBA franchises.
"When the crowd gets behind you and starts shouting, it gets the adrenalin up," said guard Kevin Grevey. "But when you walk out and see no one in the stands, it's harder to play. Over 82 games, you need extra help."
Similarly, when Washington is motivated on defense, watch out. The Bullets have held 17 opponents under 100 points the season - and they have won all 17 games.
"Defense is a team game," said Bob Dandridge. "When we communicate and switch well and handle our assignments, we control clubs." But the Bullets have had enough bad defensive games to rank 15th in the league in that catagory, behind such as Buffalo, New Orleans and Detroit.
The Bullet defense is especially defective against weaker teams. They haven't been motivated in many of these games and have wound up surrendering 117 points to New Jersey, 123 to Indiana, 130 to Buffalo, 116 to Boston and 120 to Kansas City.
"It's not always our fault," said Dandridge. "Some of these teams have played very well against us. There is a lot of telent in this league and when you are playing on someone else's home court, it's not that easy to win every time out."
Washington's inability to cope with back-to-back games also has been a problem. Thirteen of their 34 losses have come when there has been no day off between contests. This weakness has contributed heavily to a poor 13-25 road record.
Club officials say that much of this inconsistency would have been eliminated if injuries had not jolted the club just when it was playing well in early January.
They point to how Portland has collapsed after being torn apart by injuries the past three weeks. "I don't use injuries as an excuse, because everyone has them, just like everyone has to cope with the schedule," said Motta. But injuries did disrupt our substitution pattern and we lost a great guard in Phil Chenier. That has to hurt."
Even this late in the season, Motta can't rely on 11 healthy players. Larry Wright has missed the last eight games with a wrist sprain, which has left Motta with only one playmaker, Tom Henderson, and not nearly the flexibility on the bench he would like.
"For a while," said one player yesterday, who asked not to be named, "we all knew our roles. Now no one knows how substitutions are going to be made and we aren't getting enough consistency out of some players.
"But we aren't dumb. We know we can't catch San Antonio in the division race and we are pretty sure we can stay ahead of New York and finish third in the conference.
"It's stupid to wear yourself out in the regular season and have nothing left for the playoffs.The main thing at this point is to be ready for the playoffs and then play like hell in them."
Washington has shown an ability to play well in important home games, a trait the Bullets will have to continue over the final eight contests to beat the Knicks for third. They have five home games left, and team officials are hoping four of them - Cleveland on Friday, New York on Sunday, Los Angeles on April 5 and Philadelphia on April 9 - will attract large crowds.
Pride probably will have a lot to do with what Washington does down this final stretch. Elvin Hayes, who earlier in the season questioned whether his teammates were playing as hard as they should, thinks the Bullets will respond.
"It's not easy playing a lot of games in a row and we've had to do that the last week or so," he said. "This club has a lot of talent and we know how good we can be. Now is when the older players have to provide leader- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]