Philadelphia captain George McGinnis insists: "If any club has the ability to come back from a 3-1 deficit, it's our club."

Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham talks bravely and says, "We're not planning any vacation at this point. We're not going to fold up."

And the good doctor, Julius Erving, says, "We can still turn it around, but we won't do it if we keep playing the way we are. We have just got to get together on this and do something."

But yesterday, the 76ers were mostly apart, a terribly confused and confounded team.At one point late in the second quarter, there players were calling three different plays. A few seconds later, George McGinnis and Darryl Dawkins were jawing at each other when McGinnis told the man-child center to move down closer to the baseline.

And then Dawkins left the game shortly thereafter, he shouted at Gunningham, "You call one play and we run something else."

Cunningham grabbed Dawkins' arm and said, "Sit down here."

Dawkins said, "Get your hands off me," and went scowling to his seat.

He also kicked a chair.

After the game, McGinnis was wondering out loud why Cunningham decided to change defensive assignments on Elvin Hayes. McGinnis guarded Hayes in the first half, when Hayes scored 21 of his 35 points. Center Caldwell Jones had him in the second.

"I thought our team would be more effective if I took Elvin," McGinnis said. "I thought it would give Caldwell the chance to roam around under the boards and help out on defense. Elvin likes to take that fallaway shot, and if Caldwell is on him, he's away from the boards, and that's what we wanted to avoid.

"Then we switched back, I really don't know why. I felt I was doing a good job. Then he (Cunningham) put me on Kupchak. But that wasn't the ball game. There were so many times in that second quarter when we had a chance to bust it open, and we couldn't capitalize.

"Right now, Washington is a club of momentum and a club of confidence. For all intents and purposes, I'm sure people will write us off now, but I don't feel that way. I don't think anyone should panic or be frightened. But give them a lot of credit, they're playing so well. Obviously, we're not."

All of the 76ers pointed to that remarkable stretch in the final 4 minutes 11 seconds of the second quarter, when the Bullets ran off 17 straight points and turned an 11-point deficit into a six-point lead at intermission.

"We seemed to lose our confidence," McGinnis said. "The crowd got extremely loud, then we threw it away, we didn't hit the shots, we made so many mistakes. But even though we lost our composure, we still had opportunities later on. You have to take advantage. We never could.

"The Bullets are playing as well as I've ever seen them play. Man for man, I think we're more talented. But the thing that makes sports interesting is that the best team or the best talent doesn't always win."

Someone asked Erving if he was shocked at the precarious position the 76ers find themselves in.

"No, it's a disappointing development, not shocking," he said. "We're out there playing hard, but you have to be realistic. If the other team is outplaying you and winning, there's no use being shocked. it's just someting you have to live with and deal with.

"How the Bullets are playing now is not indicitive of the way they played during the season. They had a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries that they've managed to overcome and it looks like it got them together. All their people are playing well, they've got guys coming off the bench doing great things.

"Today they ran the fast break on us, they got their transition game going and they had an explosion out there. Their effectiveness as far as runnig off those points (in the second period). Well, rattling us is the only way to describe what happened.

"My suggestion to our team is to do what comes natural to you and hopefully things will fall into place. What else can you say?"

Erving and McGinnis have been telling that to their teammates frequently the last few days. The 76ers players had a meeting, without Cunningham, after practice on Saturday and had another soul-searching session after yesterday's game.

"Yeah, we're having a lot of these meetings," guard Lloyd Free said. "No I'm not gonna' tell you what it's about. What's our problem? The 76ers are missing shots they normally make. But if you miss people say, 'Ah, it's that terrible one-on-one ball.' That's not it."

Someone asked Free if the 76ers lacked leadership.

"Nah, that's not it, either. We have George and Julius as our leaders. The young guys like myself have to follow them. I'm changing my style to get with those guys. We've just got to get something going.

"I also think the Bullets are playing over their heads. But they're playing with great confidence. I hope our crowd (Wednesday night in Philadelphia) gets like their crowd, yelling and screaming and stamping their feet.

"We ain't giving up. After you lose the fourth game, that's when you say "nice try." But we're still alive. Talking time is over. We got to do something now."

As if the 76ers don't already have enough problems, they will probably have to practice the next few days without guard Doug Collins, who left for his home in Illinois immediately after the game to be with his critically ill father.

Collins made only four of his 15 shots yesterday and scored eight points, 12 below his season average. He is shooting 41 per cent in the series after hitting 52 per cent for the year.

"We were getting the shots we wanted," Cunningham moaned when it was over. "But there's very little you can do if they won't go down. we just have to hang together as a team. It's never over until the final basket."