The Bullets hired Dick Motta two years ago in part because of his coaching experience in playoffs. They hope to continue receiving dividends from that investment today when they begin their NBA second-round playoff series against George Gervin and the streaking San Antonio Spurs.
The 1:30 p.m. game will be telecast in Washington by WTOP-9.
To have any chance of winning this best-of-seven series, the Bullets realize they will have to win at least one game on the Spurs' home court, where they've never won. Much of their success will depend on Motta's handling of key defensive matchups and substitutions.
His flexibility could be increased because forward Bob Dandridge, who sat out Friday's victory over Atlanta, flew here last night from Washington. But he said he would have to go through pregame warmups before determining if his sore neck will be well enough for him to play.
If he can perform, Motta said he would start Mitch Kupchak, with rookie Greg Ballard ready for backup duty. Dandridge also could be used as a spot layer.
The Bullets would have preferred to start this series Tuesday night, which would have given them more time to prepare for the Spurs, and to recover from a very physical confrontation with Atlanta.
Game two will be played here Tuesday night. The series moves to Washington for games Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Other games, if necessary, will be April 25 in San Antonio, April 28 in Washington and April 30 in San Antonio.
"This doesn't give us much time to celebrate," said Motta. "We have to get our minds on San Antonio very quickly. The routine will be the same for both clubs, but for this one, they have been resting a week and we've gone through a tough, tough series."
The free-shooting Spurs, who won the Central Division title by compiling the third best record in the league, beat the Bullets by 20 and 15 points here this season, but lost twice by 11 points in Washington. The clubs also split four games last season, San Antonio's first in the NBA.
Washington found out in a game here a month ago exactly what San Antonio's playoff strategy will be. Motta sent a short practice session yesterday trying to remind his players that the Spurs will employ a sagging, overplayed defense, that they will try to offset a rebounding weakness by tapping the ball out to their guards and thay they will try to clog the middle, most likely by laying off center Wes Unseld and double-teaming Elvin Hayes.
Motta can go with a couple of options to counteract the Spurs' tactics.
If San Antonio refuses to guard Unseld, Motta can move Kupchak to center. Kupchak, who is more of an offensive threat than Unseld, is too quick for Spurs' starting center Bill Paultz and he is too strong for reserve Mike Green.
And, if San Antonio double-teams is inside men, Motta can have them pass the ball back to the guards, much as they did so successfully against a Atlanta. The Hawks were able to cut off the Bullets' close-in scoring, but were beaten by Washington's outstanding perimiter shooting, including Friday night's 41-point effort from Kevin Grevey.
Motta will have to find out quickly which of his five guards have the hot shooting hand in every game. He'll begin with Grevey and the still-ailing Tom Henderson (sore foot) but he hasn't hesitated to use Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and even rookie Phil Walker late in the season if either Henderson or Grevey gets off to a shaky start.
"No matter how good San Antonio plays defense, it won't be as tough as Atlanta's," Grevey said. "It will be great to bring the ball up the court and not have somebody fighting you every step of the way."
Grevey will be a busy man in the series. He'll be given first shot at trying to control the irrespressible Gervin, who finished the season with a 63-point game to win the NBA scoring title.
"You probably can't keep him down completely," said Motta of Gervin, "but we want to keep him under control. You don't want him to score at will.
"And we want to make him work at both ends. If Kevin is shooting well, Gervin has to play defense and that should take something out of him on offense. When we beat them this year in Washington, we were successful with this strategy."
Motta feels, however, that his club will win only if Gerwin's teammates are prevented from doing too much damage.
"Our first priority," he said, "is to stop Larry Kenon." Kenon, the thin all-star forward, had 19 and 22 points in San Antonio's two victories over Washington this season. But he contributed only 14 points in each of the Spurs' two losses to the Bullets.
Playmaking guard Mike Gale also has been effective on his home court. He scored 34 points and had 14 assists in the games here, hitting open shots when the Bullets tried to double-team Gervin.
Paultz was among league leaders in blocked shots. He is almost as bulky as Unseld, is four inches taller. And also is a more dangerous offensive player.
Six-nine Coby Dietrick, the fifth Spurs' starter, is a defensive specialist. He will be assigned to Hayes, who will guard Kenon when San Antonio has the ball.
Coach Doug Moe likes to employ his bench quickly and frequently. Veteran Louie Dampier, a fine outside shooter, and James Silas, who is coming off a bad knee injury after being a standout in the ABA, are the top backcourt subs. Green, strong man Mark Olberding, and marksman Allan Bristow help out up front.
Although the Bullets want to run, they don't want to get involved in a wide-open shootout with the Spurs. "They call can shoot and we can't let them fire away," said Motta. "We don't want a transition game where everyone can free lance.
"If we play smart, we've got a shot at this. I'm feeling better about this club every day now."
The Bullets are still buzzing about Grevey's shooting performance against the Hawks. Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown said that no one should "minimize his effort. He made every difficult for them as the clock ran out. He was outstanding under pressure . . . Grevey celebrated by keeping the game ball. The ball costs $40, and Grevey said he might send the Hawks $41 "just to remember the occasion."