Unless they suddenly locate their missing offense, the Bullets probably will need two more playoff miracles from Elvin Hayes to stop Seattle's methodical march to the NBA title.
Hayes, the talented superstar whose pressure performances against Philadelphia and San Antonio were responsible for getting the Bullets into the championship round, looms as the one Washington player capable of disrupting the SuperSonics' championship dreams.
To prevent Seattle from wearing the crown, the Bullets must win the series' last two games, beginning with today's 1:30 p.m. contest in Capital Centre (WTOP-TV-9, WTOP-AM-1500). Hayes, who steadfastly has promised Washington fans a title since training camp, says the task is not impossible.
"We can beat them on our home court, we're sure of that," he said. (The Bullets are six-point favorites today.) "Then that sets up the seventh game for Wednesday out there. In a final game, it's a tossup even with the home-court advantage. Our chances would be as good as theirs."
But the Bullets have shown few signs while falling behind in this best-of-seven series that they can put together back-to-back consistent efforts.
The fluid, well-oiled outfit that rolled past San Antonio and Philadelphia has sputtered and stumbled against the Sonics' tenacious defense.
Even in winning twice, Washington has not been sharp on offense. Only in the first quarter of the opening contest, the first period of game two and the last 17 minutes of game four have the Bullets executed to Coach Dick Motta's satisfaction.
Otherwise, they've lost huge leads, shot miserably from the foul line, had little scoring from the bench and failed to get consistent scoring from the guards. They appeared to have peaked for the 76ers and now seem unable to return to a performance level capable of winning the championship.
In the midst of these problems. Hayes has suffered the most. He has been double-teammed inside and ignored for long stretches in the offense by his teammates. When the club has lost, he has had to absorb the brunt of the criticism.
After complaining bitterly about how he has used in the opening-game defeat, he has tried to play down his role during the rest of the series by pointing out that the old, shoot-it-up Hayes no longer exists.
"This is not a one-man team," he said. "Elvin Hayes fits into the offense. I don't have to score for us to win. Nobody wants to believe that."
He has the best statistics against the Sonics. Leading in scoring, rebounding and shot blocking, but it still hasn't been enough to keep Washington in front.
The club needs more than the 17 points he produced in game five Friday night. Hayes also is the one Bullet capable of dominating the rebounding and singlehandedly altering an opponent's offense with his shot blocking.
It was that combination of talents that helped the Bullets win the opening game against Philadelphia and the second contest against San Antonio, the key victories in those series. And it was Hayes, with his dunks, blocks and rebounds, who carried Washington to clinching sixth-game triumphs in both rounds.
Hayes has been wrestling with his proper role since the playoffs started in April. "I want to blend in and be part of a team," he said. So he has forced fewer shots against double-teamming, choosing instead to pass off to wide-open teammates. Until meeting the Sonics, that decision worked out splendidly for both Hayes and the Bullets.
Seattle has done a good job of keeping the ball from Hayes at his favorite low-post spot. And in the process, the Bullet offense has malfunctioned.
"There really is no reason why this should be happening," said Hayes' forward mate Bob Dandridge. "But we definitely are not executing our offense. We get a good lead and then we just stop doing the things that got the lead.
"We are doing things like brushing our picks instead of setting them solidly. Both teams know each other so well by now that you can't get lazy. You've got to use different options. They are starting to run at us on defense, so maybe we have to use an additional pass or option to get open.
"I'm not discouraged by our offensive problems. We've come close to dominating the series despite the breakdown.If we could get more consistent just for two games, things could break our way."
What is discouraging to Motta is the Bullet's inability to control the tempo in this series. Against both the 76ers and the Spurs, they dictated when the teams would run and when they would set up. But against Seattle, Washington has lost its poise in almost every game and allowed the Sonics to run off scoring spurts.
"I've said right along that Seattle wasn't going to give us anything," said Motta, "so it's vital that we don't hurt ourselves. But we are making some bad mistakes. We forget the good things that get us in front. I wish I knew why. We certainly should respect the Sonics by now."
In previous playoff series this season, every time the Bullets appeared to be falling apart, Hayes quickly put back the pieces, especially after reading that an opponent thought he knew how to stop him.
Seattle's Paul Silas and Jack Sikma are the latest to make that claim, saying they are shutting him down by beating him to his low-post spot and cutting off inside passes.
"George McGinnis thought he could handle me too," said Hayes. "But I'm not worried about proving myself. I've lasted 10 years in this league and I've scored against a lot of players."
But he also realizes that this may be his last chance to win the NBA title. He long has admired Bill Russell for the way "he could rise to the occasion and do things in the playoffs he didn't always do during the season.
"People remember Bill Russell because of all the titles the Celtics won. I remember that, too.
"This is an opportunity that not every athlete gets. It's just a shame we haven't played as good as we are capable. But there is still time to straighten that out. We know we are better than we've shown, we just have to prove it."