Have you noticed the alarming omen taking shape with the Bullets? Nobody is getting hurt. Not a single ankle sprain or hamstring pull since the last playoff series. And everyone knows the team cannot possibly win the NBA title completely healthy.
There still is plenty of time for somebody to break a leg, of course, but the Bullet-Seattle SuperSonic collision that begins Sunday is taking some fearsone backs at the basic theories on how to win championships in pro hoops.
Experience is vital, right? Well, the Sonics have reached the final series with players who hardly knew each other before the season and did not play as a unit the first 22 games.
But a strong bench still is one of the keys. Oh, yeah?Check the Bullets' numbers against the Philadelphia 76ers.Mitch Kupchak shot 32 percent, Charlie Johnson 33 per cent, Greg Ballard 25 percent.
You mean the NBA isn't a survival series? Well, the Bullets beat Atlanta, San Antonio and Philadelphia with Bobby Dandridge, Kevin Grevey and Wes Unseld out of the lineup for periods of time that lasted more than one game.
Ah, but it's still a big man's game, though. Surely that hasn't changed. Gotta have that dominant big man. So how come the leading Seattle scorers in the Western Conference finals against Denver were guards?
Is there nothing sacred about this series? Can't we throw the record books out the window anymore? Pretty soon some wise guy will insist an opera can, too, end without a fat lady singing.
Even the Destiny's Darling Theory, that fate has at last touched the aging and infirm Bullets and will guide them to the championship, has more holes than the San Antonio defense. What could be more appealing than the Sonics' boom?
"Probably unprecedented in the NBA" is how Bullet Coach Dick Motta put it. "Lenny Wilkens must be very proud."
The rest of Hoopdom is flabbergasted, for while lots of teams can rebuild on some sort of base in a year, Wilkens even tore down the foundation. Or helped knock away the large supports as player personnel director before molding the final framework as coach.
A year ago, the Sonics were 40-42 with a lineup that generally consisted of Fred Brown and Slick Watts as the guards, Bruce Seals and Nick Weatherspoon as the forwards and Tom Burleson at center.
Until he was fired after a 5-17 start, Bob Hopkins had a lineup this season that included Brown and Watts as the guards. Seals and Paul Silas as the forwards and Marvin Webster at center.
Then Wilkens became coach and Silas, Seals and Brown trooped to the bench in favor of John Johnson, Gus Williams and a rookie, Jack Sikma, known as Sick-ma in certain cynical circles early in the season. Watts, once the most popular Sonic, was let go, and a wonderful combination of talent and enthusiasm, Dennis Johnson, became a regular.
"They're young and talented," said Motta. "And they believe. They really believe."
This series is especially intriguing because, unlike most championship tests, it matches one team's strengths against the other's weaknesses. The Sonics seems to have a decided advantage in the backcourt; the Bullets are superior up front.
Webster and Silas were in Denver this time a year ago, miscast and chaffing in a system that detracted from what each does best. They were part of a multiplayer, multiteam deal that also involved Kansas City - and might well have allowed the Nuggets rather than the Sonics to make the championship round if Brian Taylor had not quit the team.
Any team with Silas and Brown coming off the bench is in fine shape, although Elvin Hayes and Dandridge ought to be able to take advantage of Silas being both reasonably slow and reasonably small on defense.
The Sonics may try Sikma on Hayes at the start, but probably will be forced to move Webster from his one-man zone near the base of the free-throw lane. Also, Tom Henderson might be able to penetrate more effectively. The Nuggets' Bobby Wilkerson did.
It can be argued that the Bullets had a tougher route to the finals than the Sonics, but that the Sonics have fewer players that can be dismissed as scoring threats from certain parts of the floor.
Or perhaps this will be the series Henderson hits open jump shots regularly - and continues to prove he can play defense. And that Kupchak begins to play with confidence once again. And that Unseld and Hayes hit a decent percentage of their free throws.
The Bullets' history this plavoff season has been that someone always has contributed when that was necessary, even though his overall performance has been mediocre. Still. Washington has better grab the advantage early, for the Sonics seem to be the sort of team that you can almost see mature during important games.
Nobody asked, but the choice here is the Bullets, that good big men still beat good small men. Webster can't hit those fallaway shots from Puget Sound forever, can he?