Seattle is not trying to hide its tactics for tonight's second game of the NBA championship series against Washington. The Super-Sonics are going to come out running and pressing while hoping the Bullets cannot beat what they cannot catch.
"We've got to play our game," said Seattle forward John Johnson. "That means good defense. Everything we do starts from our defense. If our defense is good, our offense perks up.
"We've got to put more pressure on them and force them into mistakes. That will get our running game going. We'd rather run than get into a set-offense game with them. Running is to our benefit."
This 8:30 p.m. game in Capital Centre (WDVM-TV-9) could have a major effect on the outcome of the best-of-seven series. If the Sonics win they will return home for the next two contests with the prospect of taking a 3-1 lead. If Washington wins, it will have a 2-0 margin and would need a split in Seattle to assume 3-1 control of the round.
Tonight's game is sold out, as are Games 5 and 7 here, if necessary.
Washington lost the home-court advantage in its two previous playoff series this year. The Bullets lost Game 2 to Atlanta and Game 1 to San Antonio and then had to scramble back to win the rounds.
"We'd rather not make that mistake again," said Coach Dick Motta, "although we've shown that losing one of the first two at home doesn't necessarily mean the end to the series. It just makes it a heck of a lot tougher."
Whatever success Seattle has in upsetting the Bullets with its pressure defense and fast break will depend heavily on the play of its two starting guards, Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams.
Johnson, who made the NBA all-defense team this year, creates mistakes with his anticipation and ability to block shots. And Williams may be the most adept in the league at turning those errors into points with solo fast-break layups and jumpers.
"We've got quickness and defensive strength so why not use it?" asked Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens. "We didn't do a good enough job in Game 1 of forcing things until we got way behind. We want to start earlier right from the opening play, and put pressure on them."
Even while losing the opener, 97-95, Seattle feasted on 20 Bullet turnovers, converting them into 23 points. And then the Sonics chastised themselves for not playing hard enough on defense.
"We have ourselves to blame for the loss," said John Johnson. "We didn't run our set offense well and we didn't have real good body movement. I think we will improve on both.
"We have to get off to a better start and not fall so far (18 points) behind. We know how good the Bullets are and we know we have to pay well to beat them."
To counter Seattle's strategy, the Bullets will have to protect the ball, especially around half-court. That puts considerable pressure on playmaker Tom Henderson.
"We've beaten presses all year, whether it's full court of half court," said Henderson. "It's a challenge, but I think we are good enough to face it. You don't get this far if you let a press disrupt what you want to do."
Washington also feels it must make William pay for leaving early on possession changeovers and must make Dennis Johnson pay for wandering on defense while trying to help out team-mates by double-teaming.
"For every basket Williams gets on the break," said Motta, "we have to have two offensive rebounds. That's the only way to offset his scoring.
"I'll bet you that he is cheating to the 10-second line on almost every shot we take. He just takes off. But that is part of their game and we have to be able to cope with it.
"Johnson is another problem. He is one of those rare talents that enjoys what he is doing. He's got great instincts and he keeps hustling. We know he will block shots. We just have to try to let him fly by in the air instead of forcing things."
Wilkens is telling his team it also cannot be outrebounded by 18, as in Game 1. Unless the Sonics can get a better share of the missed shots, their running game will not function as freely as they want.
But what makes the playoff opener so fascinating is that the Sonics came away thinking they had won. Washington just pointed to the scoreboard, while the Sonics pointed to their comeback and their play down the stretch.
"One of the good things about our team," said Bullet forward Bob Dandridge, "is we can play patterned and fast-break basketball. But once we got into the lead, we fall into a lethargic pattern. We stopped running and got into a patterned-type game.
"It's important for us to be steady the whole game. That's what our aim is. We know if we don't play to our potential, Seattle is going to be difficult to handle."
Washington officials are quick to point out that Dandridge and Elvin Hayes combined for only 12 points after intermission Sunday and only 37 for the game. Both totals are below their normal production, yet the club was playing its best basketball of the playoffs until midway through the fourth quarter.
"We can play better, too," said Motta. "We are free and loose for the first time in the playoffs. That's why I don't want to call this game pivotal. It would be fun to be up 2-0 and go to their place with a chance for a split instead of being 1-1 and needing a split. But we play well on the road and under pressure, so losing this one won't be the end."
Mitch Kupchak worked out briefly yesterday but said he would not suit up for tonight's game. "This is taking a long time to feel good," Kupchak said about his ailing back. He plans to go to Seattle but does not know if he will be able to play in any games.