No one was really concerned when the Bullets got off to such a poor start this season. The company line was, "It's still early."
Well, it's getting late. With the season past the halfway mark, the Bullets realize that if the playoffs were under way now, they would not be taking part.
"We definitely have to faced the reality that we might not make the playoffs," said forward Bob Dandridge. "There's no way we're going to catch Boston or Philadelphia and there are a whole lot of other teams in the same situation we're in. If we're going to make a move, now is the time we have to do it."
The Bullets rebounded from a six-game losing streak to beat Atlantic Division leader Boston Friday and Pacific Division cellar-dweller Golden State Sunday.
They will go after their third straight victory tonight at the Omni against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bullets' 22-27 record for a winning percentage of .449 is eighth best in the 11-team Eastern Conference. The top six teams make the playoffs.
The two division winners in each conference and the four teams with the next-best records in the conference qualify, regardless of divisions.
If the playoffs were to begin today, Boston and Atlanta, the Central Division leader, along with Philadelphia, San Antonio, Houston, and Indiana would qualify in the East.
The Bullets are two games behind the Pacers and one behind the New York Knicks, who also hope to earn a playoff berth.
The Western Conference qualifiers, if the playoffs were to start now, would be Seattle leading the Pacific Division and Midwest Division leader Kansas City, along with Los Angeles, Phoenix, Milwaukee and San Diego.
"It's probably going to be a struggle for us the rest of the way," said Coach Dick Motta, "and we don't have anyone to blame for our predicament but ourselves.
"I'm pretty confident now that we'll get into the playoffs, but we're going to have to start winning our home games," Motta added. "The hardest part of our schedule is just now coming up, too."
Washington's 13-12 Capital Centre record is the fifth worst home record in the NBA. Eight of the Bullets' next 10 games are on the road.
After tonight's game, the Bullets will return to Capital Centre to face Indiana Wednesday and Boston Thursday before the All-Star Game break. After six days off, they face a seven-games-in-11-days stretch that will take them to Indiana, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, San Diego, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
The team consensus is that if the Bullets make it to the playoffs, they will do all right, even though they will most likely not have the home-court advantage in any series.
The Bullets have such physical strength that very few teams in the NBA can knock heads with them night after night and still come out on top.
"Playing the Bullets four or five games in a row really takes its toll on your body," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham, "and that's why some of the things teams are doing against the Bullets now won't work come playoff time."
The Bullets' last two games have demonstrated their need for Elvin Hayes. Wes Unseld and Dandridge to carry the load: Jim Cleamons to direct the offense and at least one strong performance from among Kevin Grevey, Larry Wright and Rober Phegley. If they can follow those roles, the Bullets can make the playoffs.
At that off-guard spot, Motta has resigned himself to the fact that none of the three can deliver the goods consistently.He is content to go with whoever is playing well in a particular game rather than give the job to one person.
In the last two games, Hayes has averaged 38 minutes, 29.5 points and 10 rebounds; Dandridge 38 minutes, 26 points and eight rebounds and Unseld 38 minutes, 15 points and 17 rebounds.
"We can't do that every night," Unseld said, "and guess what happens when we don't?"
The Hawks, although they have two All-Star Game starters in guard Eddie Johnson and forward John Drew and an all-star reserve Dan Roundfield, have been in a slump lately. Their 118-111 victory over San Antonio Sunday was only their second in the last seven games, but they hold the Central Division lead by two games over San Antonio.