Bullet forward Bob Dandridge said yesterday he probably will guard San Antonio's George Gervin during some parts of today's vital playoff game at Capital Centre unless Washington gains early control.
Dandridge, who has been assigned to All-Star forward Larry Kenon, said he most likely won't start the game on Gervin, "but if he seems on the verge of a 20-point third quarter (which he produced Friday night), I'll have to do it."
Coach Dick Motta, who would prefer to paly the Spurs using his regualr defensive assignments, has little choice today but to call on Dandridge to guard the incomparable Gervin.
The Bullets are training, 3-1 in this best-of-seven series going into today's 1:30 p.m. nationally televised contest (WDVM-TV-9) and they have to win to avoid elimination. Motta admites he must now employ any tactic that could help swing the series back to his team's favor.
"Hey, we haven't lost yet," Motta said yesterday. "No one should give up on us, not just now. But we have to pull out the stops in this one, if necessary. Otherwise, the series is over.We know that.
"We aren't going to start out doing things differently. Remember, Bobby has done well on Kenon. Putting him on Gervin leaves Kenon for someone else."
Motta said that although Gervin has played well during the series (he's averaged 32 points), Washington has to be just as concerned with its own offensive problems.
"If we put in our open shots, our 15-footers, and our layups and our offensive rebounds, Gervin doesn't beat us with 42 points Friday," he said."We are getting the shots we want - we have all series. And we haven't put them in.
"Gervin killed us Friday. But we killed ourselves, too. It keeps boiling down to the same things. We put together a solid game and we can win the next three. I'm convinced of that."
The Bullets, who have struggled since the playoff opener against Atlanta, had one of their most erratic performances in Game 4 Friday.
The Bullet offense deteroriated so badly that Motta remarked afterward, "It's not my team." Yesterday, he explained he meant that the Bullets were not executing as they had been instructed, that they "didn't look like the real Bullets out there."
Gervin played up to his usually excellent standards and Motta realizes he cannot let the league's leading scorer fire away at will.
Tom Henderson, who has been guarding Gervin at the start of games, has not been able to contain his drives. And when Motta brings in Charles Johnson, Gervin uses his seven-inch height advantage to get off easy jump shots.
"You have to overplay him and concentrate on him, although I don't think you can bump him," said Dandridge, who guarded Gervin briefly and successfully, during last year's playoffs. "At least you have to make him work hard.
"Julius Erving took him low (in the semifinal series against Philadelphis) and forced him to work on defense. You have to make him work at both ends of the court. Unfortunately, we aren't making him play defense."
Dandridge's last reference was to the Bullets' inability during this series to hit consistently from the outside. Kevin Grevey especially has been inadequate (27 of 70 in the round), allowing the Spurs to sag all over Washington's front-court players.
On Friday night, San Antonio ignored Grevey and Henderson outside 10 feet and let them fire at will. When the Spurs pulled away in the third period behind 20 Gervin points Washington almost exclusively tried inaccurate perimeter attempts. Grevey shot one for 10.
Dandridge was held to six points in that game but Motta said his small forward "had to be frustrated by what they are doing to him."
"He is automatically being covered by two men and then, when he gets the ball, a third guy is on him. It's a glimmick defense and I've never failed to beat a glimmick defense. But the key is we have to hit our 15 footers. It hasn't changed since the Atlanta series."
Dandridge said the Bullets are playing right into the Spurs' hands by not making the outside shots. It's letting them clog up the middle. Every time I move, there are people all around me."
It is apparent that the Bullets would bench Grevey, much as they did near the end of the playoffs last season if another guard had a hot shooting hand. But Johnson and Phil Chenier have been just as erratic and Larry Wright is still recovering from a sprained ankle.
However, Kenon is taking some of the credit for containing Dandridge, who had been averaging 24.7 points in the first three games.
"I'm not letting him go right," said Kenon, who has long claimed he is a better defensive player than most critics believe. "I'm overplaying him and trying to stop him from getting the ball. And I don't want him to take me inside. If he gets it, it's at the perimeter."
Motta said the Bullets can overcome the Spurs' double-teaming of Dandridge "just by converting his passes into layups. He had nine assists Friday but if we had made 75 percent of the layups he set up and 50 percent of the open shots he would have had 15 assists easy."
Despite his team's dilemma, Motta still thinks his players are capable of becoming the third team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 playoff deficit.
"We are so unpredictable," he said. "Although we haven't played up to our capabilities so far. I don't see any reason why we can't start doing better Sunday. These are pros, they know what this game means. Once we force Game 6, a lot of strange things can happen."
San Antonio Coach Doug Moe agrees. As soon as Friday's game ended, he began preaching the gospel of "Be Prepared" for today's confrontation.
"We can't afford to let up," Moe said. This is a talented team we are playing and we don't want to give them any room to come back.
"If we battle with them and don't back off, we know we have a chance to win. We were 3-1 against Philadelphia and they almost came back on us. It's a scary situation. If we lose, it gives them the momentum. We've worked too hard to ruin it all now."