Of all the games within these playoff games, the most important for the Bullets is the mental one Coach Dick Motta has going with the Spurs. Specifically, he is trying to plant an apple in James Silas' throat.

In print and on the sly, Motta has spent much of the last week reminding the Spurs of their history, that their leads in games tend to evaporate quicker than gas allotments and that they have won just one playoff series in their lives. And nearly botched that.

"Can't fault the man for tryin' to distract us," said George Gervin, ever cool. "Wednesday's just a matter of who gets their confidence first. We were one game away from the (Eastern Conference) championship up here, but seemed to lose that killer instinct.

"But I carry my confidence with me all the time, right here in the heart."

Motta's taunts twice have not worked in San Antonio. In truth, they tended to backfire during Game 4, when the Spurs made a decent lead huge in the forth quarter. And the Bullets hardly left a mental imprint on the Spurs yesterday, having such difficulty winning with Gervin and Larry Kenon almost nonfactors the firts half.

"We're in the driver's seat," Silas said. "We don't listen to what Motta says. We play for ourselves and Doug Moe.What he say shouldn't bothers guys on this club. We don't hear him."

Don't hear Motta?

"Well, yes," Silas Admitted, smiling. "But when he hollers I think he's hollering at his own players. I don't pay Dick Motta no attention. No attention at all." Then Silas saw a radio friend, ushered him aside for an exclusive and said:

"We're tryin' to shake these guys. They're makin' a run at us."

Motta is making a mental run at Silas, knowing full well the futility of trying to rattle Gervin. Motta well remembers last season's playoff game in Capital Centre when, during a power failure, Gervin walked to the Bullet bench and said:

"Who needs lights?"

Although he has scored well in two games, Silas, has missed 53 of 82 field-goal tries. Whether that can be blamed on Motta's mouth is debatable. He will not stop.

In Game 4 in San Antonio, Motta and the Bullet bench tried to distract Silas during foul shots. At one point, when Tom Henderson fouled Silas, fans several rows away could hear: "Don't foul him. He can't make that shot anyway." And yesterday Silas could not help but hear, during a free throw: It's heavy, James."

Both teams were grasping for the mental edge yesterday. The Spurs realized they nearly won on a bad day, that the Bullets were struggling on their home court. The Bullets gathered hope from Devin Grevey shooting well and Tom Henderson finally making some open layups.

"That's been the most discouraging aspect of the series," Motta said. "We've had those layups."


"The keys is that they have a man on Wes (Unseld) whose only responsibility is to keep him off the boards. So we isolate Bobby (Dandridge) away from the ball, then get it to him and have Tommy slice down the lane.

"Wes is moving away from the basket at the time. And then his man's following him, no one is there to pick up Tommy. Nobody's in the low-post area."

Nobody will be there Wednesday. Or at least Unseld's man will not.

"They're free to do it again," Moe said, reemphasizing his respect for Unseld on the offensive boards. "The problem has been that we're not active on the weak side. There've been stretches of time that he (Henderson) scored and our men on the weak side didn't even realized it.

"But we'll play Wes the same. We're doing it again."

By now, there are almost no secrets, unless Henderson has been hiding his jump shot for Wednesday.

"This is the firs game we've made Gervin go over a screen and play defense," Motta said. "Philadephia (in the semifinal series) got him in foul trouble four games."

"We're got to make him run into picks," said Grevey, whose outside shooting will be a major factor one way or the other Wednesday, "because we've got the best pick artist in the game (Unseld)."

And one of the best psych artists in Motta."But come Wednesday we can wipe 'em out of our minds," said Gervin. "Just like we got to wipe this game out of our minds. We have to be ready Wednesday-and then I'll see you again."

There may well be a special urgency for the final four NBA playoff teams, for the most significant move yesterday was made not on the court but during a press conference.

That came when Bill Walton gathered his fragile legs and enormous talent for a comeback. Minds snapped to attention throughout basketball. Was the balance of NBA power not so silently shifting to San Diego CAPTION: Picture 1, Bullets play well at both ends of court against the Spurs: Elvin Hayes stuffs leaving Mike Green in lurch; Picture 2, Bobby Dandridge blocks George Gervin's attempt; Picture 3, Kevin Gervey, blocked by Mark Olberding, lays off pass to Dandridge. Picture 4, Bullet Wes Unseld and Spur Billy Paultz turn on the muscles as they try to get position for a possible rebound. By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post