Bobby Dandridge surely must be scripting these last two Bullet seasons, for the team clearly reflects its new leader. Void of outward emotion, almost arrogant at times, yet ahead by just enough at the end. Once the Bullets could invent ways to botch playoff games; now they seem to exist for pressure, the final minutes of the fourth quarter of the seventh game.
Click. The chamber of the NBA's Eastern Conference playoff pistol turned one last time Friday night in Capital Centre. We saw Bobby D-fense at one end of the court and Bobby Determination at the other. In a test of wills, his was the strongest. The Spurs panicked-or were Vanaked. Athletic Washington still tingles some at the memory.
"We've played 14 playoff games now," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta, "and we're two games over .500. And fighting for the world championship. Ain't that a (female dog)?"
Like most Bullet fans-and NBA watchers who insist the San Antonio rose wilts especially fast in intense heat-Motta's pregame dream was victory by 15 to 18 points. He experienced the full emotional spectrum, saying after a game purists enjoyed more for drama than execution:
"I saw Elvin (Hayes) block Silas and then I looked at the clock. Then I looked back again and Greg (Ballard) had the ball and time was running out. You had to be there. You had to be part of it, part of the team to really understand the feeling.
"There's no way an outsider can explain what the team and I've been through the last two weeks. The prize is so big. Sometimes you almost feel overwhelmed by the pressure. But that's what this animal is all about."
The NBA probably doesn't deserve it, but the two best teams, the ones who worked hardest the longest, will meet in the championship round. The Bullets and Sonics finished with the first- and second-best regular-season records, then survived two tough conference playoffs.
"We made it very difficult for ourselves (during the playoffs)," said the Bullets' assistant coach, Bernie Bickerstaff. "We won partly with luck and mostly with skill. Now we've got to go to work. We can't lose the homecourt advantage, or our good luck'll run out-and maybe our skills, too."
The Bullets versus Sonics rematch is significantly different in two ways.Marvin Webster is gone, but the Sonics have the advantage in those off-the-court mind games that so often influence on-the-court action. Or so it would seem. Is the hunger for revenge not as strong as the hunger to accomplish what has eluded every defending champion in the last decade?
"I like to be part of history," Hayes said. "beating UCLA in the Astrodome was history. Winning the world championship was history. Winning this series after being down 3 games to 1 was history. Winning back-to-back titles would be history."
What will be the tone of this series?
"If this isn't the most physical (final) series since I've been in the league (11 years), I'll be surprised," Motta said. That was in reference to four fellows larger than Too Tall Jones, Mean Joe Greene and anyone else in the National Football League smacking each other inside.
And when Hayes, Wes Unseld, Lonnie Shelton and Jack Sikma have begun belting each other in earnest, Paul Silas and Ballard will come charging off the bench. But the most effective crasher might well be one of the relative weaklings, Dennis Johnson.
"That's one of the keys," Motta said. "Keeping their guards off the boards. I watched the last Sonics-Phoenix game-and DJ was in for tips about every play. We've got to stop that."
A year ago the Sonic center, Webster, played into Unseld's hands by trying to maneuver around him instead of using at least a six-inch height advantage and shooting a simple jump shot. The new Sonic center, Sikma, does exactly that-and the Bullets might be forced to use Hayes on him and Unseld on Shelton.
It would seem no cosmic problem.
Most worrisome are the guards, the swift and flashy Gus Williams, DJ, near-hero of last season's collision until an 0-for-14 thud in game 7, and the unerring stylish Freddie Brown. But there is no Ice Man. At least Bullet guards can look these guys in the eyes, if they can catch them.
"Right now depth is a problem," Motta said. "Basically, I've been going with eight guys (7 1/2 in truth, because Charles Johnson has been less active this year). I tell them when they get to the bench: 'Two minutes is all you get. Breathe easy.'"
Before looking ahead late Friday, Motta was asked to put the Bullets in some historical perspective. He was candid, saying: "We're a great team, but not a dynasty." And he added: "I look at film for mistakes, I'm like a critic.
"You've got to keep learning, and one of the ways you learn is from mistakes. So I tell them sometimes, when I yell a lot, all I do is see mistakes. I'm not really a judge where we stand in relation to other teams in the past.
"But they're pullin' my wagon. I wouldn't trade 'em for any guys over the last few years. They're so durable. This year we played maybe five teams that were flat. And other than the first road trip and the last three games, when I was resting some people, we never lost more than two in a row."
Motta was interrupted by Bickerstaff wanting to know his plans for traveling to Seattle for the third and fourth games. Motta said to check with the trainer, John Lally, who arranges those matters most of the time, and then added, in a capsulized but vivid view of his profession: "I just follow the tall guys." CAPTION: Picture, Elvin Hayes, the costar with Bob Dandridge in Dramatic win Friday, will match up his skills with Sonics today. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post