It was the last game of a long trip and Elvin Hayes had an idea. If he could get into his rhythm early against Seattle, why couldn't he control the game, then spend the rest of today relaxing?
Hayes had a wonderful afternoon, playing 48 minutes, scoring 33 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking three shots against the startled SuperSonics.
His domination, coupled with the kind of heady basketball that characterizes the Washington Bullets at their best, enabled them to end this lengthy trip in the best way possible. Their 105-94 triumph over Seattle put them in a strong position to finish the last third of the season with the league's best record and gain the home-court advantage in the playoffs.
"We were 5-3 on this eight-game trip and we could have easily been 7-1," said Hayes. "We haven't got any more long trips left and most of our games are at home. Seattle and Philly (in second place in the Atlantic Division) didn't make up any ground. We are in a great spot."
The Bullets entered this eight-game stretch thinking a 4-4 record would be fine, but that was before Mitch Kupchak and Kevin Grevey were sidelined with injuries. Still, they were never blown out of any contest and almost salvaged wins at Phoenix and Golden State last week.
Now Washington, which entering the season was not favored to win even its division, plays seven of its next 11 games at home, starting with Houston Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Seattle (11 of its next 14) and Philadelphia (10 of its next 11) must play most of their games away from home.
"I figured that at the end of this trip we might be 15 games above.500," said Coach Dick Motta. "But now we are plus 21. This game today was a swing of two games, so it was important for us to win. It gives us a five-game bulge over Philly and a three-game lead over Seattle."
The key in this contest, just as it has been all trip, was the Bullets' ability to find one or two players to play better than usual.
This time, it was Hayes, working mostly against aging Paul Silas, who did the damage. He was the most physical of a bunch of strong players whose muscle upset the Sonics and forced them out of their normal patterns.
Seattle, which had won two straight over Washington, including a stunning triumph last month at Capital Center after trailing by 17 points, didn't help itself.
The Sonics shot 36 percent, missed 12 free throws and had difficulty hanging onto loose balls and rebounds all afternoon. Not once did they play with their normal quickness and fluid motion.
"What bothers me the most," said Silas, "is that we knew they were going to come out and be physical with us and we let them do it. We got outmuscled. We know this team will do and we still didn't stop it."
Nor could Silas control Hayes, who had been struggling to find his shooting rhythm the last part of the trip. Today, he said, he was determined to get young Lonnie Shelton into foul trouble early and force Seattle to go to the smaller Silas.
"Once Paul came in, I wanted to make sure I set up (in the post) early and not let him beat me to my spot, like he tries to do," said Hayes. "I went after the ball, I wanted it and they got it to me.
"This was the last game of the trip and I felt I could control things. I wanted to go home with a win; that was the way to end it. You don't want a team like Seattle to beat you three or four straight."
Hayes did the bulk of his damage in the second quarter, when Seattle was making an effort to take command. He turned repeatedly on Silas and dumped in 14 points that period, giving him 17 for the half, along with 11 rebounds.
The Sonics normally would have had center Jack Sikma help out on Hayes, but he was in foul trouble and his team was lucky to be trailing by only 50-46 at intermission.
Their luck ran out, however, midway through the third. As soon as Sikma left with his fourth foul, the Bullets exploded.
Ahead, 60-59, Washington scored 12 straight points after finally getting its running game going. Tom Henderson, who had not scored the first half, had two baskets in the streak while Charles Johnson added a fast-break jumper, Hayes an 18-footer and Bob Dandridge two foul shots and a rebound follow-up.
The 13-point bulge that resulted from the burst allowed Motta to do what he does best: Coach against the clock. Washington controlled the tempo, ran only when it wanted to and forced Seattle to take most of its shots from the perimeter. And none of the Sonics were up to hitting consistently from the outside.
But the crowd of 21.935 in the Kingdome -- Seattle's 10th crowd of at least 20,000 this season -- refused to let the home team die. Behind the pleadings of the fans, the Sonics nipped away through most of the fourth period, constantly narrowing the lead to six before Hayes finally ended the suspense with a jumper in the final two minutes. It was his 11th and 12th points of the quarter and two of five he scored at the end.
Henderson finished with 14 points and Johnson 18, including 10 the second half. The Bullets also benefitted from the return of Grevey, who pumped in seven points after sitting out a week with a pulled hamstring.
"We are at the point of the season where you start looking outside your division and worry about the best record in the league," said Dandridge. "Both teams are aware of that.
"We just have a bunch of guys now who have confidence in winning. Sure we missed Mitch and Kevin, but we've got guys like C.J. who know they are good, too. When you are the best, you are supposed to win -- on the road and when you are hurt."