One of Coach Dick Motta's hobbies is reading books about mountain climbing. That way help him tonight when he tries to guide his Washington Bullets toward the pinnacle of the National Basketball Association on a route no other team has tried successfully.
Trailing, 3-1, in the best-of-seven championship series against the Seattle SuperSonics, Motta's team must win three straight contests to win its second straight league title.
Three clubs, including this year's Bullets, have come back from similiar deficits in prechampionship rounds. But that disadvantage has proved insurmountable so far in the final series.
Motta, ever the plotting, cagey optimist, says he is confident the Bullets are capable of pulling off the feat, despite a caliber of play in this series that should spoil the sunniest of outlooks.
"I feel better about all this than I did against San Antonio, when we came back from 3-1," he said yesterday. "There was a feeling after the last game (Tuesday) in the dressing room and in the bus and on the plane home that I liked. We knew we had played well enough to win, but we didn't.
"There is still hope. Anytime I see the intensity and the emotion I saw on my players' faces in the last game, I know we are ready to play."
But the odds against Washington still are stacked as high as Mount Everest going into tonight's 9 o'clock fifth game before a sellout crowd at Capital Centre (WDVM-TV-9).
Seattle has played consistent, if not sensational, basketball since the third quarter of the opening game and has shown little sign of weakening, even in the face of a fierce Bullet challenge Tuesday night.
The Sonic's starting guards, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, are scoring easily against their less talented Bullet counterparts and, along with able center Jack Sikma, are dominating the series.
Seattle's defense has been top-notch, limiting Washington to 97 points (17 points below its season average) and .399 shooting percentage (.086 below its season mark). The Sonics have done an exceptional job handling the Bullet's one-tow punch of Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge, holding them to 39 points a game, 14 fewer than Williams (30) and Johnson (23) are averaging.
Hayes, who is shooting only 36 percent, and Dandridge, hitting with 41 percent accuracy, looms as the Bullets' main hopes of at least forcing a sixth game Sunday afternoon in Seattle.
Unless they can escape Seattle's defensive dragnet and begin matching the output of the Sonics' guards, the Bullets' fate may be sealed.
Certainly a monstrous performance from Hayes, something Seattle has not let him produce so far, would be the kind of medicine his limping team needs to regain its confidence in what so far has been a frustrating series.
"There are no secrets, no special strategies at this point," said Motta. "We know each other too well. You just have to go and put it on the line, and if we aren't good enough, then the summer will start early for us.
"At least the series produced a game the way I thought they all would go, hard-fought, bang-and-shove, close to the end. Game 4 was the game the fans deserve. I hope they all are like that."
To the credit of Motta and the Bullets, they have not talked at all about the absence of Mitch Kupchak. But more and more, they are missing bot only his scoring but the flexibility he lends to the lineup.
There seems little doubt that Motta would move Dandridge to guard for a good portion of the rest of the series so he could cover Dennis Johnson and at least try to muffle a major Seattle gun.
But without Kupchak, Motta has little front-court flexibility. If Dandridge plays guard, Greg Ballard must be put in as the small forward, and that leaves no forward substitutes.
Kupchak also has replaced Hayes when the veteran superstar has struggled. During this series, Hayes, Dandridge and Wes Unseld have had to play more minutes than Motta would have liked, but again he has had little choice with Kupchak in street clothes.
"Hey, you play with what you have, and you make the best of it," Motta said. "We won without Phil Chenier last year, and Seattle doesn't have Tommy LaGarde this year. We've never used an injury as an excuse before, and I am not going to start now."
Washington is counting on help from Seattle for at least tonight's game. From their own experience, the Bullets have found that being up, 3-1, in a series tends to bring on an air of confidence.
"I don't care what anyone says, your attitude is different when you have a game or two to give," Motta said. "You don't want it that way, but it happens. I know I relaxed when we were up, 3-1, against Atlanta."
But Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens says letdowns are a creation of the media.
"Maybe last year we might have not approached this situation the same, but not this year," he said. "My players are experienced and they have matured a lot. They know the caliber of team they are playing.
"We can't let down. Letting down isn't human nature, it's complacency. And all I'm saying is that my players are mentally and physically ready to play this game."
Wilkens' views are echoed by the Sonic veterans, especially team leader Paul Silas.
"Now that we are on top of them off the hook," he said. "They proved against San Antonio that 3-1 doesn't mean anything to them.
"It's up to us to go out and play like we have been playing. When we play our game, I think we are tough to beat."
Certainly, the Bullets have not found the key to defeating Seattle, except in the opener. They never expected the Sonic guards to be so dominant or that their own shooting would be so horrendous.
"We haven't done anything yet," said Charles Johnson, "so why wouldn't this be a good time to start?"
Seats still remain on the Bullets' charter flight to Seattle Saturday morning if there is a sixth game. The plane will leave from Baltimore-Washington International airport at 9:30 a.m. and return after the game. Cost in $400, including airfare, game tickets and motel expenses. CAPTION: Picture 1, Buried beneath Seattle's Dennis Johnson, left, and John Johnson is Washington's Tom Henderson, who joined scramble for a loose ball with Sonics leading, 104-102, in fourth game of championship series. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Lenny Wilkens