Injury-prone forward Bob Dandridge was sent home today before the Washington Bullets flew here from Phoenix for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dandridge, troubled by a pulled calf muscle since before the all-star break, will be sidelined indefinitely. His loss deals another blow to the Bullets' already faltering hopes of making the National Basketball Association playoffs.
"We can't win without Bobby and everybody knows it," said Coach Dick Motta.
Motta said that if Dandridge could not plat he didn't want him around, so he was sent back to Washington this morning.
Motta isn't the only one who doesn't want him around.
"I don't know if Bobby is really hurt that bad or not, but all this stuff he's pulling is hurting us," said one dejected player. "I'm glad they sent him home."
This trip has furnished a classic illustration of what Dandridge means to the Bullets. He was not with the team the first three games of this seven-game western swing. The Bullets lost all three.
Dandridge joined the team in Denver Tuesday. They beat the Nuggets that night and the San Diego Clippers the following night.
The excitement returned. The players started talking about how close they were to the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers and a playoff spot. There was talk that they even could win the title again.
Just prior to Friday's game in Phoenix, Dandridge said his calf hurt again and he couldn't play.
The Bullets hung their heads and barely went through the motions in a 116-104 loss to the Suns.
"It really hurt our morale," said Motta, "It felt like getting punched in the stomach."
"I wasn't completely healed when I joined the team in Denver, but I wanted to try and play and help," Dandridge said. "The doctor (team physician Stanford Levine) told me to try it, but if it hurt to stop playing. pI got kicked in the Denver game and then it was sore the entire San Diego game. I just can't play.
"I don't know how long I'll be out, but I rested it for about nine days before and it didn't do any good. I don't know what's going to happen next. I wanted to play but my leg won't let me."
Dandridge, who had not missed more than 12 games in any previous season, already has missed 15 games this year with injuries.
Whenever Dandridge doesn't play, he hears accusations that he isn't really hurt, that he could play if he really cared about the team.
This time is no exception.
Some teammates say that he should be willing to play with some pain because they need him so badly. They are starting to lose patience with him.
"We might be better off if we just don't ever have him back," one player said.
It is eating away at Dandridge. The combination of the insinuations, the team's poor performance and the injuries has made this the most difficult season of his career.
"I injured my foot in training camp and that started everything," Dandridge said. "I've never been able to consistently play up to my standards this season because of the injuries. Then I've had to deal with criticism and judgments if I'm really hurt.
"If I wasn't hurting I'd be playing. I don't like to miss games and I don't like to let my teammates down. If I could play I would play.
"Basketball is the pivotal thing in my life right now because with the resources I gain from it I can enjoy other things in life."
Dandridge added that he wants to play, but does not want to risk more damaging or possible permanent injury.
"It makes me feel good when I can play and contribute," he said, "and I'm down when I can't help."
Dandridge and Motta both say they have an understanding: When Dandridge can't play, he tells Motta and Motta doesn't question his sincerity.
"I have to believe he's hurt when he says he's hurt," Motta said. "That's all there is to it. It's demoralizing when it happens, but there's nothing anyone can do about it. I do know that it's starting to have a bad effect on this team, though."
Dandridge's injuries this season have included a sprained ankle, a strained ligament in his foot, a stiff neck, a sore back, a groin muscle pull and now the pulled calf muscle.
Dandridge singled out the Bullets' inability to run the fast break consistently this year as one of the reasons for his string of ailments.
"We aren't running so I have to go inside so much and take a pounding," he said.
Greg Ballard and Elvin Hayes led the Bullets with 23 points each against Phoenix; Former Bullet Truck Robinson scored 26 for the Suns. The Bullets stayed close for three quarters before fading in the fourth. The deeper and quicker Suns wore them down . . . The trading deadline passed at midnight Friday, so if the Bullets are going to make any more personnel moves, it will have to be with free agents . . . It is possible Dandridge could be put on the injured list, which means he would have to miss a minimum of five games.