One imagines the hawkish Bullets in the moments before today's tip-off in Capital Centre, deep in thought, perhaps licking a stubby pencil and wondering.




Guys, it's T-E-A-M, Remember? Also, a few other familiar cliches might well be dusted off: intensity, hit-the-open-man, box out; everything Hubie's Hawks have done so splendidly. Oil lobbysts don't pester this relentlessly.

For the NBA-on-CBS, this is the second season. Realists realize it is the third season of pro dribbing -- and for the fall, winter and parts of spring the Bullets offered nearly and of what makes the Hawks so appealing.

And with better players.

By now the Bullets surely know that this seveth game of the quarterfinals is more significant than the seventh game of the finals. Something called The Embarrassment Factor makes it so. For Dandridge-Hayes-Unseld to lose to Tom-Tree-Drew-Hawes would have hoopdom giggling for months.

The Bullets should win. But they are struggling, with the inspired Hawks and themselves. In recent years, they have seen every type of playoff hurdle -- and anyone who knows their history is not quite sure what to expect today.

Washington has seen Hawks before, in Cavalier clothing and Warriorlike.

"People said we were nobbdy... well, make room for the nobodies because we're the best there is."

Another Furlowism?

Nope, Charles Johnson, the Bullets' very own CJ, said that. He said it four years ago, when his decidendly-underdog Golden State Warriors were whipping the Bullets in four games for the NBA title.

The Bullets never have accepted the favorite's role with enthusiasm. With a supposedly superior team, they were Barryed by the Warriors. Bingoed by the Cavaliers and Maloned by the Rockets.

A year ago Washington won two fewer regular-season games than the Hawks did this year -- and became NBA champs by overcoming the home-court advantage in all three seven-game series.

With the exception of fourth quarters in games one, three and four, the playoff strangers, the Hawks, have been more poised and patient than the Bullets. The Hawks have been the ones who have worked the clock to its final seconds for a decent shot.

By contrast, the Bullets have been so obsessed with runing, so intent on exploiting their obvious advantage in the front court that they often have taken the first available shot instead of the first good shot.

The tipoff to this, ironically enough, has been the tipoff. Invariably, the Bullets get the opening tip, Wes Unseld grabs the ball throws it to Kevin Grevey, who almost immediately uncocks from 17 feet.

Shoot-and-chase, the game is called. Except Bullet shooters, or at least the guards, fail to heed the wisdom of The Wizare: "Be quick, but don't hurry."

Larry Wright and CJ got completely carried away with reducing a Tree to a sapling, CJ, whose jumper has been AWOL for some time now, challenged Tree Rollins outside -- and lost. And Wright's dizzy drives inside ended in Tree's limbs.

The dollar decline of Grevey and Tom Henderson has been almost palpable. They are the two Bullets with the most to gain from these playoffs, free agents when the ball takes its final bounce sometime in June.

Henderson has done about as much as anyone could expect on offense, but his defense has been offensive. Grevey sank at least six important bombs during the final moments of two victories, but is nine for 26 the last two games.

And the largely overlooked fact of game six is that the Hawks outscored the Bullets at the one position they usually lose badly -- small forward. John Drew stayed in the game long enough to score 22 points.

"One good, solid, 48-minute game... "Bobby Dandridge said, repeating the series-long Bullet lament. "We haven't yet had that, that game-long emotional high."

The Bullets still have most of the advantages, unless the guards continue to allow Terry Furlow and his guard cronies to run and shoot at will.

Teamwork sometimes is misunder stood in the NBA. Mostly, it is dicovering a weakness and hammering it so hard that in covering up an opponent leaves itself exposed somewhere else.

With the Bullets in this series, teamwork begins with getting the ball to Dandridge. But a Grevey or Wright or or CJ, a Greg Ballard or Mitch Kupchak in fact, must provide support.

That is the leson the Bullets earned in winning the NBA title last year, the one they used as a text during all but the final three regular-season games. An old team can't forget its new tricks so quickly, can it? CAPTION: Bullets, Hawks are rough and intense, Picture 1, Dan Roundfield holds out Mitch Kupchak; Picture 2, Armond Hill grabs Larry Wright; Picture 3, Bob Dandridge plants leg firmly in Eddie Johnson's torso; Picture 4, Kupchak dives for loose ball; Picture 5, Wes Unseld and Terry Furlow flail arms; Picture 6, Elvin Hayes holds out Roundfield; Picture 7, Unseld jaws at official. by Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post