Bullet guard Larry Wright said today he will try to play Wednesday against San Antonio despite a still-sore ankle that had been expected to keep him sidelined for another week.
That news, coupled with the improved play Sunday of Greg Ballard, has the Bullet coaching staff hoping their reserves can give the club a much-needed boost in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference championship series, which is tied at 1.
Wright, who sprained an ankle in the opening game last Friday, did not practice today but said he would work out Wednesday morning and then suit up for the 8:30 p.m. contest (WDCA-TV-20).
"I'm going to try to make a contribution," said Wright. "It's still sore but I think I can play. I want to. These are the playoffs. You have to try to come back.
"Iths not as bad now as my sore ankles have been in the past. Right now, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be in uniform for the game. I think I can help."
Wright's presence would take some of the pressure off playmaker Tom Henderson, who lacks a competent backup anytime Wright is sidelined. And it gives Coach Dick Motta more flexibility in the back court, where the Bullets have struggled to score consistently in this series.
With Mitch Kupchak sidelined, probably for the duration of the series, with back spasms, Ballard's role also becomes more important.
He is now the No. 1 front-line reserve, spelling both Bobby Dandridge and Elvin Hayes, who must move over to replace Wes Unseld if the veteran center leaves to rest. Dandridge did not practice today because of a sore hamstring and back, but he will play in Game 3.
"We need Greg to play well," said Motta. "It was nice to see him come in fired up Sunday. That's much better than he played in the Altanta series."
Ballard did not have a good series against the Hawks, partially due to limited playing time. He was not aggressive and his shooting was erratic (23 percent).
But in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, he scored seven points over a five-minute stretch and pulled down four rebounds. He was particularly effective on the offensive boards, a sure sign to the coaches that his confidence has returned.
"Anytime Greg throws himself around the offensive boards, you know he is into the game," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "He was going after it out there for first time in the playoffs.
"I don't know if he was ever really into the Atlanta series mentally. He seemed timid out there. Greg can't finesse things. That's not his game. He has to mix it up."
Ballard said the fact "I was told I was going to play more in this series" because of the Kupchak injury helped his outlook.
"It's hard to get yourself ready when you don't know how much you will play," he said. "My minutes were so unpredictable against Atlanta and then I couldn't get my shot in.
"Sunday, I felt good and the crowd kind of helped me, too. Once I got into it, things just fell into place."
Ballard's forte is rebounding, something he feels "can be done effectively against San Antonio. I think Wes is showing that. Their forwards really play a zone and you can get loose underneath if you keep moving.
"I know we need rebounding from me more than we need anything else. Since I like to rebound, I think that is something I can produce."
The Atlanta series was a personal setback for Ballard, who had been an important part of the Bullet fortunes during the regular season.
Despite Motta's comment that he would stay with his normal substitution pattern in the playoffs, Ballard soon found himself sitting more during the Hawk games than he was used to. As a result, he was pressing when he did play, trying to impress the coaches enough to gain extra minutes.
"Now I'm just trying to go out and play," he said. "Everyone is trying to relax."
Although Washington needs a split in the two games here to regain the upper hand in the series, the Spurs Seem to be scrambling more. Coach Doug Moe is especially concerned about Unseld's domination of the boards and has switched defensive assignments.
"Mark Olberding will cover Wes in this game," said Moe. "We've got to be more physical with him because he is the most physical man on the floor. He uses his size and bulk and pushes guys out of the way. He's just plain strong.
"We've got to start hitting him as much as he's hitting us. Unseld weighs 300 pounds and his whole purpose is to push you under the basket.You've got to push back."
Olberding, who has been covering Hayes, is the Spurs' most physical player. He says he will just have to "give myself up and make him worry more about me so maybe he will lose his concentration."
Unseld, who is being called the "Incredible Hulk" by the newspapers here, has 41 rebounds and 40 points in the two games. He was especially effective in Game 2 working on Mike Green, the Spurs' 200-pound center. Green now problbly will swing over to Hayes with Larry Kenon on Dandridge.
San Antonio also must adjust to the Bullets' scrambling, double-teaming defense, which was employed for the first time in the series during the second half Sunday.
Just as the Spurs want Washington's guards to do the bulk of the shooting, the Bullets would prefer to have Olberding, Green or Kenon carry the Spur offense while shutting off George Gervin and James Silas.
Dandridge, who was guarding Olberding, became the chase man in the defense Sunday, double-teaming out front while leaving his man wide open. The Spurs never adjusted by finding Olberding; instead, their guards forced up shots.
"We got them out of their rythmn," said Dandridge, "and our whole team picked it up from there. We just have to keep playing that way."
Gervin missed practice Monday because of his wife's illness and he did not work out yesterday because of a sinus condition . . . The game did not sell out 48 hours ahead of time so it will be blacked out locally . . . Moe is expected to use center Billy Paultz, who has a sore hamstring, more extensively Wednesday night.