"The one thing I thought all of you would pick up right away," Dick Motta said to reporters at Dulles Airport yesterday, "is the one dominant theme of the playoffs. Yet nobody's touched it. Do you realize that three of the four coaches remaining are left-handed?"

Sports is a series of cycles-peaks one instant and pits the next during games, wonderfully high stretches of victories, then valleys of doubt and defeat, and back up again-for the exceptional teams.

Overnight, Motta went from near depression to near ecstasy. After four weeks, he hopes his Bullets have worked out of a collective slump and are ready, in the final game of the Eastern Conference championship series against the Spurs, for te push necessary to defend their NBA title successfully.

His instincts are positive.

"It's upbeat now," he said after the Bullets played their first Bullet-like game in more than a month Wednesday night in San Antionio. "Sure, the playoffs are long enough for cycles. And after our last two games, the confidence is building."

Having grabbed Mo, as in Momentum, from Moe, as in the Spurs' right-handed coach, the Bullets again are getting the sort of balanced shooting and playmaking from the guards that keeps five Spurs from molesting three Bullets inside.

And heroic work from the seldom-seen Greg Ballard, the Bullets' one thread of wildly glorious consistency against the Spurs. Ballard entered Game 6 Wednesday shooting 71 percent from the floor-and was eight for 11.

If the Bullets have, if fact righted themselves from losing the final three regular-season games and being carried by an inferior team to the final minutes of the final first-series test, Ballard is a major reason.

He was getting minutes early on because his buddy and kindred spirit on the Bullets, Mitch Kupchak was injured. He is getting more minutes because nobody can force him out of the lineup once he enters a game.

For the second straight year, Ballard has played the loyal team role-on the bench. Whatever frustration that has built up over accumulated rust and neglect, he has kept private.

There have been long talks with Bullets with similar experiences, Kevin Grevey and Kupchak, and his former teammate at Oregon, Ron Lee.

"We'd get together when he was in town," Ballard said. "He'd complain about his minutes-and he'd be getting more minutes than I was."

Now, Ballard, as he did in the championship series against Seattle last year, is making a mighty pitch for starter status-somewhere, if not Washington. He has made 30 of 42 field-goal tries and grabbed 37 rebounds in six games against the Spurs.

In Game 6, Ballard was among the major reasons Elvin Hayes got a beer shower from a fan immediately above the entrance to the Bullets' dressing room. Immediately, the Bums, began to smash the man with their fists.

The Bums, more than 100 strong, pride themselves on their capacity fr spirit and spirits but insist they never have thrown anything at opposing players and coaches.


Net Coach Kevin Loughery once appeared before a meeting of fans sponsored by Pearl Beer. He made the mistake of praising a rival, Lone Star. So the man from Pearl gave Larry Braun $20 to throw a cup of beer at Loughery after the game that night.

Braun's conscience bothered him all afternoon. Finally, he decided to pay another fan, a non-Bum, $5 to carry out the Pearl deal. The man doused Loughery with enthusiasm.

"First time there's ever been a fan contract, a hit man in the stands," Braun said. Braun led the chase for the fellow who bathed Hayes Wednesday.

"We police ourselves," Braun said. "Say somebody in our section maybe throws a beer at a friend-or his wife-or his girl. We take them outside and straighten matters out in hurry."

The Bums and the Spurs were certain that playoff matters with the Bullets would be straightened out to their satisfaction Wednesday. But it was the Bullets who played inspired basketball. The Ice Man, George Gervin, melted. Grevey did a splendid job early on keeping between Gervin and the ball.

Still, Gervin did not seem to want all that badly.

Afew days ago, when the Spurs held a 3-1 advantage in games and the Bullets clearly were struggling, the Spurs' Allen Bristow said: "They remind me of ourselves a month and a half ago."

Now another cycle seems to be taking shape. CAPTION:

Pictures 1 through 7, The playoff tide turns in favor of the Bullets as, clockwise from top left, James Silas charges Elvin Hayes; Bob Dandridge guards George Gervin (44); Hayes shoots; Greg Ballard watches ball; Wes Unseld and Coby Dietrick tangle, and coaches Dick Motta and Doug Moe Shout advice; Picture 8, Greg Ballard