The Bullets don't expect either Wes Unseld or Kevin Grevey to play tonight when they resume what is becoming a bitterly contested, extremely aggressive NBA Eastern Conference championship series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Both Unseld (sprained ankle) and Grevey (sore neck) underwent daylong treatments yesterday in an attempt to be ready for the 8:05 p.m. game at Capital Centre (WDCA-TV-20) before an expected sellout crowd of 19,035. But Coach Dick Motta was not optimistic that either would suit up.
"Wes couldn't put any pressure on his foot when he got out of the cast," said Motta, "and Kevin's neck was worse today than it has been.
"Both are very unlikely. That's the way we have to approach it."
Unseld sprained his ankle in the series opener Sunday in Philadelphia and had been in a cast ever since. Grevey hurt his neck Tuesday morning and played 18 minutes of the second game Wednesday before it stiffened up.
No one in the Bullet organization was ready to rule out that at least Grevey would be well enough by game time to play. And officials also kept talking about Unseld's history of healing quickly.
But Motta is figuring that Mitch Kupchak will be his center, instead of Unseld, and that Larry Wright will start at guard in place of Grevey.
Wright had an outstanding effort in the Bullets' 110-104 loss Wednesday that evened the series at 1-1. He had 22 points and eight assists and turned in one of his best defensive performances of the season, including five steals.
He will be backed up by Charles Johnson, one of the heroes of the San Antonio series, but who has yet to score against the 76ers. Rookie Phil Walker also is likely to see some action in the backcourt.
"I feel good, as good as I've felt all year," said Wright. "I'm just trying to play as hard as I can and as long as I can and hope that is good enough. I've been ready; it's just a matter of getting the time."
Kupchak got caught up in a physical duel with Darryl Dawkins Wednesday and was held to six points and seven rebounds, far under the totals Motta feels he must register in order for the Bullets to win.
"He just had a bad game," said Motta. "He can't give us any less, that's for sure, but I think he'll adjust better this time.
The confrontation between Kupchak and Dawkins is Exhibit 'A' in an increasingly more heated exchange of words between the clubs about the physical play in the first two games.
Motta charged yesterday that the 76ers deliberately used Dawkins Wednesday night to shove, push and intimidate the Bullets as much as possible. General Manager Bob Ferry showed films from the game in which Dawkins could be seen knocking down Kupchak and running over both Bullets and team-ates to get to rebounds.
"They wouldn't be doing that if Wes was in there," said Motta. "It isn't going to work, because it's not basketball.
"Someone is going to get killed out there. We may be aggressive but we don't go out to hurt anyone. But it's up to the league to do something about it.
"I think the way they played showed desperation on their part. They are supposed to be a great fi-better watch it, because it can hurt. Now they have stepped out of character, just like San Antonio did. They better watch it, because it can hurt them just like it hurt San Antonio.
"You'll never hear me complain about physical play.But there were a lot of cheap shots out there that I've never had happen to one of my teams before. I asked the refs at half to control it before there was a fight."
The 76ers, however, aren't about to shoulder all the blame for the rough-house series.
"They're a physical team that you have to be physical with," said forward Steve Mix. "Frankly, I don't know how much more physical I can get. I did everything but beat them over the head with a pole.
"It's been a very brutal series. Whoever comes out with the less blood on them will win."
Forward George McGinnis said Washington was beating up the 76ers, "but we just can't think about it. We got to do something about it. It seems like they just want the ball more than we do."
And Dawkisn, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound strongman who says he has been hampered by a series of minor injuries, added that, "Everyone is grabbing, boxing, shoving and holding. They play that way. We got a lot of physical players but it's all in the game."
The Bullets say they are fearful that fights are going to break out unless the referees decide to control the game better than they have.
"Roughness is part of the game" said guard Tom Henderson, "but not flagrant elbows and all that stupid shoving.
"The refs can stop it if they qant. They see it going on but they pretend they don't. This is too late to get someone hurt. There will be a fight and it will be the refs' fault."
Johnson said that Philadephia "isn't doing any more than the refs let them get away with. You can't blame them for trying.But this isn't the way the game was supposed to be played.Somebody has to control things better out there."
The last thing Kupchak wants is another fight. A brief scuffle during the regular season with New York's Lonnie Shelton cost him a $1,500 fine. And besides, as forward Bob Dandridge put it, "Mitch has a lot more on his mind to worry about.
"He's in the middle with Wes out and he's in the middle of the physical contact. It's a hell of a way for him to be tested."
Unseld is a key figure in the Bullet offense, although he doesn't score much. But the screens and picks he sets at the high post (for cutting guards) and along the baseline (for both guards and forwards) free team-mates for open shots. And he also handles the ball on most of the plays in order to take advantage of his accurate passing.
Kupchak does not set screens as effectively as Unseld, nor is he as good a passer. Motta said that the Bullet offense broke down in the second half of the Wednesday game "without Wes in there to those little things he does so well.
"We need more scoring from Mitch to offset what we are missing without Wes. That's the one way we can compensate for his loss."
And Dandridge thinks the Bullets will profit "by forgetting about all this roughhouse stuff and stay with our game plan and be as aggressive as we should be.
"This is going to be physical. That's what playoff basketball is all about. What was a foul a month go isn't one now. But unless we get our minds on our business, we are going to mess up an opportunity to win this series."