The Bullets hope a combination of Wes Unseld's return to the starting lineup, a loud and enthusiastic home crowd and a dread of playing another game in Philadelphia will be a potent enough mixture to propel them to the NBA Eastern Conference championship tonight.
"This is a must game, no doubt about it," said forward Bob Dandridge about the 8:05 showdown with the 76ers in soldout Capital Centre, which the Philadelphia players call "the zoo" because of its raucous game atmosphere.
Although the last 2,000 tickets to the contest were sold yesterday, the Bullets said they would not lift the local television blackout. The game will be broadcast over WOP-1500 radio.
"Okay, we can still win it all by beating Philly up there Sunday," Dandridge said, "but it would take our best game of the season to do that. This game tonight is the one we have to take. We have to be hungry, just like we were earlier in the series."
Unseld's presence could provide the stabilizing factor the Bullets lacked in losing game five Wednesday night to see their lead in this best-of-seven round close to 3-2.
The Veteran center, who had not played since injuring his ankle in the series opener, played 30 minutes but did not shoot well Wednesday. Coach Dick Motta said the team's play execution, which is so vital to their chances of beating the 76ers, was not crisp with Unseld in the lineup.
"But we worked hard in practice and I think we ironed out the wrinkles for him," Motta said. "It's just good to get him back. I never thought he could possibly play so much Wednesday. Now I'm anxious to see what he can do with more work."
With Unseld starting, Motta can substitute with Mitch Kupchak, which he fells "makes us deeper and more versatile. Like I've said, having Mitch next to me on the bench is good felling."
Motta will ask the usually unemotional Unseld to help keep his team-mates from getting free-shooting, helter-skelter, uncontrolled-tempo game that Philadelphia exploited so well Wednesday.
"There isn't any mystery to what we have to do to win," said Motta. "We can not beat them playing one-on-one, playground basketball. But we can beat them playing better team ball. Every time we do that, we have been tough in the entire playoffs.
"We want to push the ball up the floor and take the break when we have it. If we don't have the break, then we have to pull back and run our half-court offense correctly."
In game five, the Bullets, who were hindered by the most aggressive Philly defense of the series, never were able to establish their regular offense. Part of the problem was too many turnovers (27), their highest total in the round.
Washington discovered in the San Antonio series that once it began mishandling the ball, it couldn't control the tempo and the Spurs could start fast-breaking more readily. The 76ers reinforced that lesson by scoring 32 points off its running game, all but four of which came from what Motta described as "bad offensive mistakes on our part."
"We can't throw the ball away like that and expect to win," said Dandridge. "They beat us because we made too many mistakes. Like I keep saying, we are our own worst enemy. We know what it takes to win, but sometimes we refuse to execute those things like we should.
"There were times in Wednesday's game that we reacted to things differently than we would have if we had been tied, 1-1, in the series. You can see in the films how we are hesitating.
"Elvin (Hayes) and I didn't go about our business with the same hunger, either. We can't be satisfied at this point with what we've done. We have to want more."
Hayes, who says the Bullets will run away with tonight's game, scored only 12 points in game five, the same as Dandridge. They had been combining for 50 points a contest. The 76ers caused some of their difficulties by sagging more inside than they had been and forcing the Bullets to rely on their perimeter shooting.
"If they are going to beat us, then their guards are going to have to beat us," said forward George Mginnia. "They've forced us to take 20-footers 50 we tried to do the same to them."
The 76ers also played their starters, especially Julius Erving longer than has been Coach Billy Cunningham's pattern during the season. And they continued having guard Doug Collins chase the ball on defense while Henry Bibby guarded Kevin Grevey.
Motta said his offense "doesn't have to change to handle what they are doing. If we execute properly we can get 10-foot jumpers all day against a sagging defense. San Antonio tried the same thing on Elvin and he passed the heck out of it.
"If they want to chase a guard then I'll go with my offensive guard (Larry Wright) more frequently to stop that." But Motta said he would start Tom Henderson, who was benched at the start of the second half Wednesday.