The jury is still out on whether one of the many National Basketball Association teams with predominantly two-man offenses can win the championship this season.
But some nights the Phoenix-based scoring firm of Westphal and Davis presents such a persuasive argument that even their most fervent foes probably would return a favorable verdict.
"The way Phoenix bases their offense around them and the way they are pulled in and out of games makes it so hard to play them," said witness Bobby Dandridge, who will shadow Walter Davis tonight when the Bullets host the suns at 8:05 in Capital Centre.
"They are disciplined within a team concept," explained Dandridge. "They don't free-lance that much. And that makes them as dangerous as anyone you can name. They don't have to fight for their points. The offense produces point opportunities for them."
Davis and fellow gunner Paul Westphal average almost a combined 50 points a game, the best two-man production in a league that features such other high-powered duos as Julius Erving and Doug Collins of Philadelphia, Pete Maravich and Truck Robinson of New Orleans, David Thompson and George McGinnis of Denver, Larry Kenon and George Gervin of San Antonio and Lloyd Free and Randy Smith of San Diego.
But the output of the Phoenix Phenoms becomes even more impressive evidence when playing time is considered. Neither averages more than 32 minutes or 19 shots a game in Coach John MacLeod's everyone-plays system. But both are such deadly shooters -- neither has been under a remarkable 55 percent all season -- that they still produce enough points to have helped the Suns run up the third-best record in the league.
Phoenix could be the purest finesse club in the NBA. Other than sixth man Ron Lee, the Suns rely on quickness, not contact, to subdue more muscular opponents. They make do nicely without a star-studded bench or a true big forward and have a talented center, Alvan Adams, who can't shake a sickness and injury jinx.
Amost nightly, they are forced to fall back on Westphal and Davis to keep them in a challenging position in the Pacific Division. And just as consistently, the Suns produce, but in a uniquely different fashion.
Unlike most top clubs, the Uns don't have a chartable substitution system. Their replacement sequence appears to have been copied out of a Smith playbook; players move in and out of games at almost the same fast tempo as Phoenix loves to play.
The result, at least in the opposition's mind, can be confusion
"The last time Phoenix played here, they took Davis out after two minutes," said Dandridge. "I couldn't believe it. There was no way I could develop a defensive flow against him.
"You are always looking around wondering who you are covering. They put both Daivs and Westphal on the bench and you think that you can gain some points and their subs do a good job. You take them for granted but you shouldn't."
In his second season, Davis has emerged as perhaps the league's most specialized offensive player. When playing, he moves at nearly top efficiency every moment, cutting and sliding in and out of the key and along the baseline until he comes open for a quick shot.
Then, when he tires, he goes to the bench, regains his breath and comes back in.
"Walter may be unstoppable, expecially in pressure situations," said Westphal. "When he is going good, we have to get the ball to him. We'd be foolish otherwise. When he is on, he doesn't miss."
As much as a third of Davis' output results from pure hustle, whether on a fast break, rebound follow or simple give-and-go dash to the basket. He has a deadly medium-range jump shot, an ability to hand in the air for shot, and enough determination to get off even a few seemingly impossible twisting moves.
"He's so quick," said Dandridge. "One step and he can get free and they are always, always, looking for him. Hey, that's important. If you work hard and don't get the ball, so what? But if you know you will get the ball as long as you have a halfstep on someone, you will work your tail off."
And if Davis can't work free, there is always Westphal available to toss up one of his soft perimeter jumpers. No other club in the league is quite so determined to make sure two players get a majority of the shots, even when Adams is healthy.
"The fact we only play them a few times each year helps them," said Bullet Coasch Dick Motta. "Theirs is an entirely different offense than most teams run. They cut and move and don't worry about that many picks. There is a constant quick flow and you have to be ready for it.
"By using so many people, they keep it fresh and alert out ther. Everyone participates and everyone feels they are contributing to winning. It's also pretty obvious they know that to stay on top, Westphal and Davis better get the ball most of the time."
Dandridge put it another way: "You know that Bayard Forrest isn't going to be looking to the basket to shoot all that much. Why should he, with Davis and Westphal around?"
Although the two-man system contradicts the accepted league theory that balanced team play is needed to win a championship (example: Portland and Washington the last two years), MacLeod's approach is hardly helter-skelter, hog-the-ball turmoil.
If Phoenix wants the ball to wind up in a specific position, it has patterns and plays to fulfil that requirement. New Orleans, in contrast, routinely resorts to individual one-on-one displays by Maravich and Robinson while their teammates stand and watch. And despite all of Philadelphia's preseason talk about its new continuity offense, the 76ers remain instinctively a one-on-one outfit with Erving and Collins.
"Their (the Suns') system could stand them in good stead for the playoffs," said Motta "That's when defenses get tougher and you can take advantage of one-on-one clubs. Phoenix may get a lot of points from two people but at least they involve everyone."
Not that the Suns are unwilling to let Westphal handle the ball every time down the court when he has an especially hot hand. MacLeod isn't one to pass up a sure thing when he sees it.
"Westphal, when he gets rolling, will just keep on going around screens all night," said Bullet guard Kevin Grevey. "Sometimes we will try three different people on him to wear him down. But if he is on target, it's almost an automatic two."
Westphal's excellence has become a standard by which to jtdge most other guards in the league. He is a strong, durable, consistent, unselfish player who has become the franchise of one team after another, Boston, gave up on him three years into his pro career.
After never averaging more than 9.8 points in a Celtic uniform, Westphal has not been under 20.5 as a Sun. Nor has he shot worse than 51 percent the last two seasons, despite launching the majority of his shots through the rarified air outside the foul circle.
But move up on him too far and he will dash past an Adams pick and down the lane for a layup.
"He can go to the basket as strongly and as consistently as anyone in the league," said Grevey, who remembers that Westphal's trick shots won a network-sponsored halftime HORSE contest involving many of the league's top players.
Westphal, a consummate gamesman, probably wouldn't mind if the same network sponsored a two-on-two halftime competition. At least he'd have no problem finding a partner.
NOTES: The Bullets have won both previous games against the Suns this season... Washington does not play at home again until Jan. 14, when it hosts San Diego. In between, the Bullets travel to Atlanta Saturday and Denver Tuesday.