Washington Coach Dick Motta closed practice today for the first time in two seasons. But he said he was not planning any kind of George Allen-like intrigue against Seattle for Sunday's third game of the NBA championship series.
"We are just going to do a lot of talking," Motta said. "And it's easier to listen if we are by ourselves."
What Motta will be talking about is no mystery, either. Ever since the Bullets lost Game 2 to Seattle Thursday night, he has only one thought on his mind: the Sonics' double-teaming defense.
"We've got to do a few things to take advantage of how they are playing us," said. "But we won't have any lineup changes or new revelations. Not at this time of the season or with this team."
But with Kevin Grevey hobbled by a sore tendon in his right thigh and the rest of the guards having shooting problems, it seems probable the Bullets will lean more and more in this 3 p.m. game (WDVM-TV-9) to a lineup that has Bob Dandridge and Larry Wright at guard and Greg Ballard at forward.
A crowd of from 30,000 to 40,000 is expected in the Kingdome, But the size of the gathering is not worrying Sashington, which beat the Sonics here last year in the final round and enjoys playing in the huge, domed facility. The rest of the games here this series will be played in the 14,000-seat Coliseum.
Motta would rather beat the Sonics, who came away from Washington with a 1-1 series split, using a stand and lineup. And if one of the guards has what he calls "a 50 percent shooting game" he probably will not have to make any changes.
But if Seattle again confuses the Bullet offense as well as it did in the second game, then be will have to try to get as many shooters into the contest as he can. That way the Sonics would not be as tempted to wander on defense leaving the less-likely Bullet marksmen wide open for shots.
The Bullets find themselves in a situation where they desperately could use a healthy Mitch Kupchak. Not only is he another fine offensive threat, but he also would give Motta more substitution flexibility, especially in the middle.
But without Kupchak, who is on this trip but not close to being in game form, Washington has only one experienced front-court reserve - Ballard. And if he is in the lineup with Dandridge at guard, Motta has no one available to relieve Elvin Hayes.
Yet Motta ultimately may have little choice but to pack his lineup with shooters and ask for iron-man efforts. As long as Seattle continues to employ just seven players, on a regular basis, it will not be too great a gamble.
The Bullets are convinced that Seattle relying on a zone, supposedly an outlawed defense in the NBA. But unless the tactic is used blatantly, it rarely is penalized by league referees. So it is up to the Bullets to locate weaknesses in the Sonics alignment, just as they did against San Antonio and Atlanta earlier in the playoffs.
"They aren't doing anything differently than I was coaching against us, "Motta said. "You have to make us win from the outside. We are getting the little pop shots, the 15-footers, but they don't fall, that's the whole game.
"It's this simple. Larry Wright scored 26 points in Game 1 and we won. He got eight in Game 2 and we lost. If one guard supplies decent production we should be okay. If they don't it's a struggle.
"We've got to recognize what they are doing. If you going straight man-to-man, you worry first about the man, then the area and them the ball. If you are using a zone, it's the ball first, the area second, then the man. Seattle is making sure the ball is covered first."
The Sonics have their double-teaming one step further than either San Antonio or Atlanta did. Those two teams would drop a guard down low to help cover Hayes and Dandridge. Seattle is using center Jack Sikma as much as the guards to help out. And to further complicate matters, they are employing guard Gus Williams like a basketball free safety to come up behind the Bullet forwards and try for sneak steals.
"We are basically playing a team with three offensive players and the rest concentrate on defense," Motta said. "But this a very good defensive team. We have to recognize that. They know what they are doing."
The Bullets' lack of respect for Seattle's defensive ability is reflected in Washington's turnovers for the first two games: 41. "As long as we aren't more careful with our passes," said Motta, "we are going to turn over the ball.
"It's a matter of execution and confidence. They know what we are doing is time-tested. I've seen it win a world championship. But we are giving away baskets on the turnovers. That's what is hurting us. We are giving away points.
"If we continue to make 20 turn-overs a game, we probably aren't going to be successful."
The Bullets also would like to run more than they did in Game 2, in order to take some pressure off their set offense. And they also would benefit if Wes Unseld could take advantage of Sikma's defensive help to teammates by gathering more offensive rebounds.
Grevey's condition remains a concern. He said today his leg was tight but that he would play Sunday. This latest ailment occurred in pracitice earlier this weeks, according to Grevey, who hopes to ease the strain on the tendon with a "new way to wrap my thigh."
If his leg tightens up during the contest. Grevey will not be able to play much, which could reduce even further Motta's substitution choices.
"I'll go as long as I can," said Grevey who had 10 points, the highest among Bullet guards in the second game. "It's just sore. You never know how it will react."
The Bullets find themselves being all but written off by many out-of-town reporters covering the series. Most of the opinions were formulated after watching Washington's 82-point production Thursday night, which rands among the team's worst overall displays of the season.
But Motta has club in similar situations during the playoffs the last two years. In one game, the Bullets have appeared incapable of beating lowly New Orleans. Yet they have bounced back the next to put on impressive displavs.
"I keep saying that you shouldn't give up on the Bullets until we actually lose a series, "I can't read what they will do and no one else can either. You count them out and then they surprise you.
"Sure, our last game wasn't very good. But that is the beauty of this type of series. You have seven games to try to improve."
One possible Bullet defensive change during the series: Hayes covering Sikma instead of Unseld. The Sonics are having success isolating Sikma on Unseld and having him shoot over the Bullet center. Unseld would would move over to Lonnie Shelton . . . Motta is hoping Charies Johnson can do a bettter job off the bench on Dennis John son. Last season Charies Johnson played his taller opponent very well during the championship series. CAPTION: Picture, Elvin Hayes goes up for a Washington shot in Game 2, guarded by SuperSonic forward Lonnie Shelton. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post