His team had just finished the regular season with its third straight loss, but Dick Motta still was talking last night as one who could see another NBA championship in the Bullets' immediate future.
"I think we want another title really bad," the coach said after Houston had pulled away to a 112-102 triumph before 16,253 in Capital Centre. "I told my players this season might be the most satisfying thing to happen to them.
"We've been hurting and we've taken a full shot from everyone in the league and we've survived it. We know to a man what we have to do to be ready for the playoffs."
But Motta couldn't smile. He realizes there is a large question markhanging over his club entering post-season play.Will the Bullets stay healthy enough to perform at top efficiency?
"We are capable of winning another title," stated forward Bod Dandridge, who had 31 points in 35 minutes against the Rockets. "But we need 10 or 11 healthy and able bodies to give us the bench strength to win the championship."
Last night, the club was without Mitch Kupchak, still nursing a sore back, and Kevin Grevey, whose hamstring tightened up slightly after the Atlanta game Saturday. Larry Wright was still in Louisiana becasue of a family death.
Since Grevey pulled the hamstring in late January, Washington rarely has been able to dress 11 players. Over their last 33 games, the Bullets have had their top six players healthy at the samt time for just five contests.
Kupchak and Grevey say they will be ready Thursday, when the Bullets begin practicing for the Eastern Conference semifinal round against Atlanta or Houston.
"My back was starting to give out and get weak in the second half of some games, so I decided I better sit it out," said Kupchak, who first had spasms in his back March 17. "It feels better every day and I think I'll be able to work hard from now on."
Grevey said he could have played last night "if it had been the playoffs. But it felt tight and I'm trying to use some common sens. Why risk getting hurt for this game?"
Motta, looking around the almost deserted dressing room, said he was thankful for small favors. "Hey, we got out of th edamn season without losing anyone permanently," he said.
Was he not concerned about losing these last three games?
"I never like to lose," he answered, "but we tried. No one can say we didn't attempt to win them. But they really didn't mean much. They won't have any effect on the playoffs. We are too mature to let this bother us."
For Houston, last night's contest was of utmost importance. The Rockets needed their 47th victory to secure the home-court advantage against Atlanta in the first-round, best-of-three playoffs and they performed impressively desipte a ho-hum 20-point, 12-rebound game from center Moses Malone.
Houston is a superior perimeter shooting team. During the second and third quarters, when Washington was trying to rally after a horrible first-quarter effort, the Rockets constantly popped in 15-footers to stem everyrally. Houston made better than 60 percent of its attempts in those 24 minutes, mostly from outside the foulline.
The Bullets were so bad at the start of the game that the fans were booing six minutes into the first period. Houston ran off 14 points, forcing Motta to use Dandridge, who had played sparingly Friday night and not at all Saturday trying to rest a sore neck.
Dandridge quickly stabilized things but Washington never could completely wipe out what eventually became a 14-point Houston lead.The Bullets got within one early in the fourth, only to have Rocket subs Slick Watts and Robert Reid ignite an 8-0 spurt that wrapped up the win.
Watts and Reid combined for 29 points while the Bullets got only nine points from among Greg Ballard, Phil Chenier and Dave Corzine.
Houston Coach Tom Nissalke is convinced Washington tried harder to beat his club than it did against Atlanta Saturday night. Otherwise, he asked, why did Dandridge play?
"I've got to give credit to (Bullet) trainer John Lally," said Nissalke with a heavy dose of sarcasm. "He was my trainer (in the ABA) but I never knew he could lay his hands on someone like that and have them make an unbelievably recovery like Dandridge did tonight." CAPTION: Picture, Slick Watts, (00), of Rockets, drives inside Bullet defense for a layup against leaping Wes Unseld. By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post