Unless their slump-ridden guards suddenly can find their shooting eyes, the injury-riddled Washington Bullets could see their hopes of anothe NBA championship evaporate today against the San Antonio Spurs.
Washington must win the second game of this Eastern Conference championship series or face-shooting Spurs. And to even the round at 1-1, Coach Dick Motta admits he must get increased scoring production from his guards.
Injuries to Larry Wright and Mich Kupchak, both of whom probably will be sidelined the rest of the series, already have reduced Motta's flexibility for the 1:30 p.m. contest in Capital Centre (WDVM-TV-9). He has particular problems at the playmaking guard spot, where Wright, who is hobbled by a severe ankle sprain suffered in the opening game Friday night, is the only backup to Tom Henderson.
Without Wright, Motta is forced to use Charles Johnson to relieve Henderson, but Johnson functions much more efficiently in the second guard spot. X-rays of Wright's ankle yesterday revealed only the sprain but Motta said he did not expect him back "for at least 10 or 12 days."
In the past, the Bullets have had trouble overcoming injuries at just one spot: the playmaking guard. Everytime Wright or Henderson has been sidelined, the team has struggled badly.
Kupchak's absence leave Motta with Greg Ballard as the main frontline reserve. But Ballard cannot play center, meaning the Elvin Hayes will have to move from his forward position to the pivot whenever Wes Unseld needs rest or gets into foul trouble.
And there is still the shooting slump by the guards that has reduced Washington to three effective players: Hayes, Bobby Dandridge and Unseld.
Without scoring support from the guards, the Bullets don't have enough firepower to gun down the Spurs, who have never been hindered in the past by Washington's defense.
"We have to outscore this team," said Motta. "If we don't score more than 100 points in a game, we are going to lose.I'm sure of that." The Bullets lost the series opener, 118-97, Friday night.
Bullet officials had been trying to downplay the guard-line troubles but that embarassing defeat, in full view of a booin sellout home crowd, brought the situation to a head.
"We can't panic," Motta said. "That's the worst thing we could do.
"The open shots are there. We had more of them in one game against San Antonio than we did in the whole series against Atlanta.
"But they have to go in. If they don't, San Antonio will double-team Bobby and Elvin all night. They did that to us in the opener and it was just the way to play us. You've got to give them credit."
Hayes, however, shrugged off the loss "as just a bad game," saying that "no one should get the wrong impression. It was just one of those nights.
"This is a good basketball team. We have proven that. Sure, it would help if we could get some outside scoring, but we will. They are going to start hitting. They always have in the past."
Motta won't make any lineup changes, but he is certain to juggle his guards quickly if starters Henderson and KevinGrevey get off to a poor start.
The Bullets would really benefit if Grevey can produce. He has not been in a good rhythm since mid-season, when he first pulled a hamstring. Since then, he has struggled to shake off recurring slumps.
Washington entered this series acknowledging the guards would be outscored by San Antonio's George Gervin and James Sila.
But Motta figured if his guards could score close to their regular-season averages (a combined 50 points a game), his team would be able to keep pace with the Spurs. In the series opener, the guards produced 26 points compared to San Antonio's 68.
"If just one guy gets hot, I think we are okay," Motta said. "We just need some help to keep them from sagging in on us like they did in the first game."
Even with a depleted squad, Motta said he did not plan on changing his goal of trying to run as often as possible against Spurs.
"We have to run to beat them," he said. "You have to keep playing your game. You can't let injuries take you out of what you want to do.
"Granted, we don't have as many options now as we did when we were healthy. One more guy goes down and we are in trouble. But we still have enough left to win this series, if everyone is on top of their game.
"We can't shoot 25 percent from our back court and commit 25 turnovers and expect to beat anyone.It just doesn't work out like that in this game."
Team owner Abe Pollin and Centre President Jerry Sachs attended practice yesterday, with Pollin giving the club a brief pep talk. The players showed little reaction.
Instead, the team quietly went through a workout that concentrated on outside shooting drills. Afterward, Grevey, Johnson and Phil Chenier, who was three of 13 in the opener, held their own shooting session.
Along with the guard problems, the Bullets also are concerned about Kupchak's spirits. The usually happy-go-lucky player is depressed over the back difficulties, that have plagued him since mid-March.
Kupchak said his back start hurting him again Monday but he was so upset he did not tell the team until Thursday, evidently hoping treatments at his home would cure the condition.
"He wants to play so badly," Motta said, "and now it has really gotten to him. You can't blame him in a way. He's struggled and struggled and every time it looks like he will be okay, it starts hurting him again." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, no caption, by James M. Thresher-The Washington Post