The last thing the Bullets really want to do today is play the opening game of the NBA Eastern Conference championship series.
"It would be nice if we could celebrate an extra day," said Coach Dick Motta yesterday. "You don't have too many days in your life when you can be really happy like this team is."
But instead of rejoicing an extra 24 hours over their six-game semifinal-round triumph against San Antonio, the players tried to focus their minds on the Philadephia 76ers.
It wasn't easy.
Motta ran them through an abbrevated workout but he quickly determined "their minds really weren't with me. They didn't want to do too much. We could use two days before playing again, but what can you do about it?"
So no one is quite sure which Bullet team will show here for the 1:30 p.m. game (WTOP-Channel 9): the keyed-up outfit that subdued the Spurs, 103-100, Friday night, or the lackadasical bunch that was walloped by San Antonio in the opening game of that series.
"You'd like to think we can turn around and prepare for Philly right away," said guard Kevin Grevey, who is just glad to get away from George Gervin. "But there really isn't much time. They've been sitting there, waiting for this, and we haven't had a chance to think much about it."
Every time Washington does ponder the 76ers, the same nightmarish images form: Julius Erving dunking the ball, Lloyd Free making one of his all-world bombs, Darryl Dawkins sending home a gorilla slam, Doug Collins moving constantly for the open shots and George McGinnis muscling in a one-handed jumper.
"We have to be considered the Cinderella team of the series, especially against Philly," said Elvin Hayes, who had a most satisfying series against the Spurs. "But we weren't supposed to beat San Antonio as we did. I think if we play with the same kind of intensity as we did against the Spurs, we can beat Philly too."
To beat an opponent as quick and deep and talented as the 76ers, the Bullets realize they will have to play controlled, intelligent basketball. Otherwise, Philadephia can win on the strength of its ability, when if its team work isn't quite right.
"This will be a different type of series than against San Antonio," said Motta. "Philly is deeper and more physical.
"They also have Dr. J, but how can he do anymore against us than Gervin did?
"We still have to run and get the ball up the court. What we don't wnat to do, however, is get into a helter-skelter gane with them where they can run wild. I don't think we can keep up in that situation.
"If the break isn't there, then we have to set up our offense and execute. It will take patience and it won't be easy. This is a great test."
Turnovers expecially take on importance. When the Bullets mishandled the ball against the Spurs, they lost two games. But when they protected it successfully, they won. Friday night, for example, they had only two turnovers in the last three quarters and none for the contest.
"If you handle the ball right, you control the tempo," said Tom Henderson. "We have to control the tempo. We have to make every possession count.
"The Doctor and McGinnis are like guards the way they handle the ball, so they can really run the break. To offset that threat, we must crash the offensive boards and make sure they don't get that many easy rebounds. If they don't rebound, they can't run."
Bob Dandridge feels that if the Bullets can rebound on the defensive boards "there is no reason why we can't run against them like we ran against the Spurs.
"That means our big men have to do the job on the boards. If they come through, we can be competitive."
Dandridge, the Bullet catalyst in the San Antonio series, will have the difficult of shadowing the magnificient Erving during the series.
The task of trying to stop Gervin hurt Grevey's offensive output against San Antonio, but Dandridge thinks he can play both ends of the court successfully despite Erving.
"In the past, he hasn't dominated me and I haven't dominated him," said Dandridge. "He has certain weaknesses on defense that I have to exploit and I will be thinking about some shots I will let him have at the other end.
"But what makes Philly different from San Antonio is that everybody has the potential to be a major contributor and to have a big night. With the Spurs, you could anticipate some players not hurting you."
In other matchups, Grevey will guard Collins, Hayes will take McGinnes, Henderson will defend Henry Bibby and Wes Unseld will on Caldwell Jones. When Washington has the ball, McGinnis will guard Unseld and Jones will move to Hayes.
Motta, whose club split four games with the 76ers this season, indicated that he will start the series with the idea "of using a lot of reserves. I'll go to Charles Johnson. Larry Wright, Greg Ballard, Joe Pace and Mitch (Kupchak) and see how it works.
"Then you change and switch you thinking as you see how matchups work. That's the subtle part. It's like a big chess match."
With its deep bench, known as the Bomb Squad," and its talented starting lineup, the 76ers have been aiming toward a run at the NBA championship almost since the day they lost the title to Portland last year.
They finished with the league's second best-record this season and tied an NBA record for most home court wins. With rookie coach Billy Cunningham's constant pleading about teamwork and defense finally sinking in, the 76ers are an improved team over the previous model.
"Our game is to get the ball off the boards and run with it," said Collins. "To do that, we have to play good defense. We found that out when we beat New York in the playoffs."
That four-game romp over the Knicks, including a 40-point truimph in the opener, served notice to the rest of the league that Philly is ready Motta got the message.
"They put on quite a show in that series." he said. "But I don't think we are content with beating San Antonio. We feel that we can accomplish more. Now we will see."
The rest of the series schedule is: game two Wednesday night in Philadelphia, games three and four Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Washington, and, if necessary, five game Wednesday, May 10, in Philly, game six Friday, May 12, in Washington and game seven Sunday, May 14, in philly . . . By winning in front of a sellout crowd Friday night, the Bullets now are 17-0 at home this season before crowds of at least 12,000.
The sixth game of the Portland Milwaukee series will be today in Milwaukee, with the Nuggels leading, 3-2. The Bucks stayed alive Friday night in Denver by scoring a 117-112 victory.