No way the Bullets can do much in the playoffs. They are a team built on a strong inside game. They need most of the rebounds to beat anyone, and they need an inordinate number of offensive rebounds to beat a good team. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is depth. Rebounding is a war of attrition. To win on the boards consistently, you need five, maybe six strongmen. The Bullets have three.
Sunday's victory over the mighty Philadelphia 76ers means nothing. The Sixers didn't try. No bonuses, no records, no home-court advantages - nothing was at stake for the Sixers, so they spread a blanket, opened some good wine and enjoyed the day off.
For the Bullets, a victory guaranteed a series with the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Of all the teams qualifying for the NBA playoffs, the Haws are the worst. Their presence is testimony to the fraud the NBA foists upon its customers by playing an 82-game schedule to eliminate only 10 of 22 teams. Naturally, the Bullets are happy to start against the Hawks, for it seems almost like a bye into the second round, where Big Trouble waits.
San Antonio is big trouble for the Bullets, and that's where this painful season will end.
You want pain? By count of the Bullets' publicity man, Marc Splaver, the team's top eight players have missed a total of 89 games. A photograph of the composite Bullet, with his injuries taped, could pass for The Mummy Lives.
More pain you want? The five men everyone hoped would lead the Bullets to greatness - Elvin Haves, Bob Dandridge, Wes Unseld, Phil Chenier and Tom Henderson - have started only eight games together.
Still, the Bullets are good enough on crutches to beat the Hawks, who like to play the game slowly, too. But San Antonio comes at you like a racing wind across the prairie. To beat the Spurs, the Bullets will need a series of exceptional games from their inside people. We should not hold our breath. Listen, if you will, to that famous Sixer picnicker, George McGinnis.
"Wes, Elvin and Mitch Kupchak - that's the Bullets' strong suit; those big, big guys inside," McGinnis said. "For that club to be effective, those big people have to bang inside. To do that night after night, consistently, takes a gigantic effort.
All year, they haven't been consistent."
The Bullets need good outside shooting, too, McGinnis said.
"Our philosophy against them is to run 'em, run 'em. At the top of our game, we'll run right by 'em. So we run, we sag on Elvin, we double-team the ball and we make them hit the outside shot. They have to prove to us they can hit outside shot. They need to find a guy who can stick that outside shot in. They're not consistent at it."
Doug Collins, the 76ers' guard, said quickness was the advantage his team has over the Bullets. "They've got no forward, for instance, who can match up with Julius," he said.
Erving took the comparison a step further, including his running mates at forward, McGinnis and reserve Steve Mix; "It's very difficult for them to defend against us. All of us are capable of throwing lateral movement at them and that causes the Bullets trouble."
Which is a nice way of saying the Bullets' big forwards, Kupchak and Hayes, can't guard anyone much quicker than The Mummy Lives.
That is not the team's only defensive liability, either. For much of Sunday's game, the Bullets used relative midgets at guard, 6-footer Charlie Johnson, 6-1 Larry Wright and 6-3 Phil Walker. Against them a 6-6 Doug Collins or 6-7 George Gervin of San Antonio can score in bundles.
Beginning the real part of the NBA season, the playoffs, the Bullets are in no position to survive long. Everything seems so fragile.
Elvin Hayes has had a big year, but then he always has a big year and gets little done in the playoffs. So can the Bullets count on him?
Kupchak is a joy to watch and he'll get the job done offensively. But he's not an NBA forward defensively. In action for the first time in a week, Dandridge limped all day Sunday. Will he be ready?
Charlie Johnson was a star Sunday with 29 points. He threw them in from everywhere, once sinking a 25-footer launched over a 7-foot-1 defender. If Johnson could match that performance throughout the playoffs, he would be the inspirational leader this team needs. He came here as a free agent, however, on a 10-day contract, and not many free agents are capable of playoff heroics.
"I wouldn't let Kevin Grevey shoot," said Julius Erving when someone told him McGinnis advocated played only six minutes Sunday. Was that a signal that coach Dick Motta thinks Grevey's jumper won't work in the playoff? Or are we to believe that fairy tale about the coach not realizing Grevey was healthy enough to play? Any coach who doesn't know physical condition of his players by Game 82 soon will be a wonderful insurance salesman.
So many questions, so little time to find the answers. One thing we can say with certainty of Sunday's game: Mitch Kupchak may be physical, but he ain't stupid. The Sixers' Darryl Dawkins, who is 17 feet tall and has muscular ear lobes, went up for one of his good-gawd-almight-look-at that dunk shot. Under the basket, Kupchak first thought of challenging Dawkins. Then he took two steps backwards.
"A wise move," Dawkins said of the retreat. "Very wise."