The question of why the Bullets have waited until the last moment - today - to use Bobby Dandridge on the Spurs' George Gervin leads one to wonder.
Has Coach Dick Motta been too stubborn? Has his public determination to "use what got us here" cost the team its NBA title? Or is there another possibility? Could it be that Motta has in fact asked Dandridge to check Gervin - and Dandridge has refused?
"I didn't hear that," Motta said yesterday in reply to that final question. "Don't ask me that, okay?" He turned and walked inside the Capital Centre dressing room to begin a film session.
Ever since he guarded Gervin briefly - and well - during the Bullets' playoff victory over the Spurs last year, extra duty has caused Dandridge to bristle. It has been the root of his season-long contract fuss with management.
"I've not directly ever told him I didn't want to play guard," Dandridge said. "He asked me early in the season to guard John Williamson in the fourth quarter when he was hot. I did - and we beat the Nets.
"Since then I think he felt that everyone should be responsible for his position, the guards for guarding guards, the forwards for guarding forwards and the centers for guarding centers. Everyone should be holding his own at a given position.
"And our big guard (Kevin Grevey) should be able to handle him (Gervin). But our big guard basically is a scoring guard. I have to guard the highest scoring forward (Larry Kenon) and that's trouble enough. But these [WORD ILLEGIBLE] are the playoffs. Do or die.
"So somebody's got to keep him from scoring 42."
Some of us cannot fathom why a man earning $250,000 would not leap at any chance to help his team. Or why Motta would not order him to do whatever seemed necessary during the playoffs. Dandridge's attitude has been that he was hired as a small forward - and that anything above and beyond should cost extra.
After that Nets' game to which he referred, team sources said Dandridge told the coaches he did not want to play guard. And Motta anxious to avoid controversy agreed. Now both men realize there may be no other alternative if the Bullets are to win the three straight games necessary to capture this series.
Presumably, Dandridge would be asked to check Gervin only when Grevey and Tom Henderson are being rested. As has been obvious the entire series and especially so during his 42-point performance Friday in San Antonio, none of the Bullet reserves can melt the Iceman.
Gervin scores at will over Charles Johnson, and those bursts are just enough to fuel the Spurs' victory explosion. Washington's best lineup at times seems to be the one Motta is reluctant to use - Dandridge at guard and Greg Ballard at small forward.
Dandridge is versatile enough to play guard and Ballard gives the Bullets yet another bull of a rebounder. And Dandridge at guard would force Gervin to work at both ends of the court instead of relaxing while Grevey misses open jumpers.
Indeed the Bullets would not be in this sort of backs-to-the-wall dilemma if the guards could hit a decent percentage of unguarded jump shots. The Bullets are the reverse of nearly every team in the land from high school through the pros. They have an abundance of front-court players but none of the consistent outside threats seen on every playground.
Grevey has been pressing the entire series, knowing his value as a free agent diminishes with each missed shot. At one point Friday, he threw up a long distance shot with no Bullets and four Spurs near the basket. Then he fouled trying for the rebound.
But Grevey's mental state hardly was improved by Motta screaming at him during halltime. Sources said Motta was livid at Grevey - and that Grevey shouted back.
The major mystery Friday was not why Motta tailed to use Dandridge on Gervin or whether Elvin Hayes used an elbow or his fist to inflict a three-stitch wound over Mike Gren's eye. It was why the entire team played so lethargically.
Down two games in one this figured to be the one night every Bullet played inspired basketball. But from almost the first play the team that should have been thinking championship was playing like a hopeless also ran anxious for the season to end.
The Bullets were unable to get the ball to Dandridge, the cornerstone of their offense of late and Dandridge did not seem all that anxious to get open. Wes Unseld converted only two of 11 offensive rebounds into baskets and had no assists.
Motta insists the Bullet offensive problems are more critical than keeping Gervin under 50 points. And he may be right. But to ignore Dandridge on Gervin is inexcusable for both Motta and Dandridge.
It is possible both to see Dandridge's point - that he is the Bullets' most valuable player and deserves to be paid as such - and to be angry with [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . Having proven his point, Dandridge may assumes the loyal team player role.
But what of his leverage in the matter? If he is that intent on renegotiation, why not continue to balk at playing either Gervin or guard or both?
"It's a tough situation," he said. "Where leverage comes in is whether the organization likes you, thinks you're an asset on and off the court. I'm from the old school, I came to play and produce. This is leverage in itself.
"My idea is to be one of the best in any profession to help in scoring and defense to get assists and get everyone involved in the offense. That should be a [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] but I could be wrong."