For a few brief days this week, the Bullets put aside their carefully constructed, unemotional facade to let a bit of old-fashioned laughter and spirit squeeze into their locker room.
Winning a couple of games with the odds suddenly lengthened can do that to a quality team, even one that tries to act as unaffected by victories or defeats as do the Bullets.
"These were fun games," said Coach Dick Motta about his club's victories over New Orleans and New York, despite having only eight players suited up. "You could tell the players felt that way, too.
"There was a lot of noise in the locker room after we won and you don't see that too often. But these were different. We could have folded our tent and said, 'So what, our lead is big enough, why try?' But we didn't. We played hard and tough and we won a couple we just as easily could have lost."
The two games will fade quickly from memory as soon as playoffs begin. But these victories helped reveal another aspect of this team, the best in the NBA.
The league's top clubs are supposed to win despite injuries, but they sometimes don't. Los Angeles went into a tailspin without Adrian Dantley this year, and Philadelphia lost 13 of 16 games with guard Doug Collins sidelined. Kansas City has not played well since Scott Wedman was hurt and even last year's Bullets crumbled with the loss of Mitch Kupchak.
Yet, these Bullets made up for the loss of three of their top six players -- 51 points out of their offense -- so well that they didn't just beat New Orleans and New York. They embarrassed both teams, even whipping the Jazz on its home court.
Motta went into those contests with four guards, two centers and two forwards, an out-of-kilter alignment that should have created substitution problems. He wound up starting Charles Johnson, normally his No. 4 guard, and Greg Ballard, his No. 4 forward. And he used his 10th man, Dave Corzine, for about half of both games.
"Lots of times," said guard Tom Henderson, "injuries don't mean that much because of the players who are hurt. But every one of the guys we lost is important to how we play. I don't think there is another team in the league who could lose two starters and their best sub and play this well."
The club couldn't afford either night to get into foul trouble, especially up front, and it didn't. It needed a versatile performance from Wes Unseld, who played forward as well as center, and he responded with authority. It needed additional scoring from Elvin Hayes, and he answered with 32 and 31 points.
"Anyone wondering how deep this team really is should look at these games," Ballard said. "I know everyone always says we have four or five guys on the bench who could start for most teams but I think this proves it.
"Actually, these games can help us in the long run. It gives people like me more playing time and that lets me have more experience. And it is resting people like Bobby Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak for the playoffs."
The injuries disrupted everything Motta has been trying to do with the Bullets all season. His substitution routine was shattered, his strategy was altered and his ability to change the game's tempo was destroyed.
Yet his players worked within the confines of his offense, getting the ball down low to Hayes and friends whenever they needed an important basket. The team was as methodical the last two games as it is when the full complement is on the bench and when Dandridge, who lends so much intelligence to the floor play, is suited up.
"What people overlook," Motta said, "is our schedule. If we had lots of time off between these games, heck, eight players probably would have been okay.
"These guys like to win. They felt really good about what they accomplished out there. Hey, they are the champions; they have pride. These reserves don't want to come in and stink up the joint."
Neither, of course, does the remarkable Hayes, who couldn't play much better than he did in the pair of games. "I knew we needed some extra points," he said, and he produced the additional scoring with grace and power. Neither New York nor New Orleans had a defender capable of stopping him and he easily could have scored 40 points in each contest.
"Elvin wanted the ball and we gave it to him." Motta said. "It's that simple. When he wants to score, who in the league can stop him? The more he plays on this team, the more he realizes what we need from him."
The longer the Bullets play with eight, the quicker the odds will catch up with them. If Hayes or Unseld fouls out or if Ballard's production falls off, Motta doesn't have the bench versatility to compensate.
But for at least tonight's game at Detroit (8:05, WDCA-TV-20), Motta won't have much choice. None of the three injured players is expected to dress, although Dandridge and Kupchak could be back for Sunday's contest here against the Pistons.
Piston guard Kevin Porter already has broken the NBA record for assists in a season and should become the first player ever to top the 1,000-assist mark in a year. Porter is averaging 13.1 assists a game, and had a streak of 22 straight games with 10 or more assists broken recently... Detroit is playing.500 ball over the last 32 games and usually gives Washington a rough time at home... Bullet guard Roger Phegley has returned from his home in Peoria, Ill. He lost 15 pounds fighting off a case of stomach flu and says he is weak.