"It's like taking a nice warm bath and washing all the grime of the season away. If we play hard and do the best we can, we can win this thing." Dick Motta

The Washington Bullets aren't talking or actng like a team that's about to be executed. They're loose and they believe they can keep up with the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, even if few others in the basketball world think so.

"The pressure is on them, not us," Coach Dick Motta said. "They're the ones who won 59 games and are supposed to win this thing in a snap."

The Bullets, who struggled through the regular season winning 20 fewer games than the 76ers, will make their 12th straight playoff appearance tonight, against the 76ers, in the first game of a best-of-three Eastern Conference first-round series at the Spectrum.

The 8:05 game will be televised on WDCA-TV-20. The second game will be played Friday at Captial Centre at 8:35. If a third game is necessary, it will be at the Spectrum Sunday afternoon.

"I've been in a lot of playoffs before and I feel as good about this one as any of them," Motta said. "I like playing Philadelphia in a short series and I know they don't particularly want to play us."

The 76ers got a scare yesterday when playmaker Maurice Cheeks, recovering from a concussion, collided with Lionel Hollins in practice and sustained another head injury.

Cheeks was taken to a neurologist and Coach Billy Cunningham called Cheeks "very doubtful" for tonight's game. Cheeks has been having dizzy spells since the concussion last Thursday against the New York Knicks.

If Cheeks can't start, veteran Henry Bibby will.

Without Cheeks, the 76ers could be in trouble. He is their quickest and probably best-shooting guard and works nicely on the fast break with Julius Erving.

Without Cheeks, Erving would probably have to work harder than he normally does, if that's possible.

Erving isn't in the best physical condition, himself. He has a sore knee and a sprained arch. The injuries caused him to miss four of the 76ers' last seven games.

Erving said yesterday that he should be nearly at full speed but cautioned teammates that "the best team doesn't always win in a short series."

Stopping Erving is the key to stopping the 76ers, and the Bullets worked yesterday on methods to contain Erving.

Greg Ballard will start on him defensively, but Kevin Grevey and Elvin Hayes are expected to help.

"We've got to make Julius play hard at both ends of the floor," Ballard said.

"We just don't want to let the Doctor get the ball in an open-court situation," Motta said. "That's where he kills you. He's a superstar, one of the few in the game who can turn it around and control it. If he has one of those fantastic nights where he dominates everything, we're going to be in trouble."

Erving had 40 points March 12, the last time he faced the Bullets. The only time Washington beat Philadelphia in six tries this season, 119-113, in overtime, March 20, Erving didn't play because of a sore foot.

"We've been handling them pretty well, but you can't take anything for granted," Erving said. "I don't really think the Bullets match up with us well and we have a better bench. That's why we're 59-23 and they're whatever they are. A short series works to their advantage, though."

The Bullets and 76ers have very contrasting styles. The Bullets would very much like to slow down the action and make the 76ers work hard for everything. The 76ers want to get out and run, utilizing their open-court skills and depth.

"I know we don't have the depth they do," Motta said. "Nobody does. But our basic group has been here a few times. We know what to do. We just can't afford early foul trouble or any kind of injury."

"We're just gong in there and do the best we can," Hayes said. "We're going to have to get something from the bench, though."

The matchups are expected to be Hayes on Caldwell Jones, Wes Unseld on Darryl Dawkins. Ballard on Erving, Grevey on Lionel Hollins and Kevin Porter on Cheeks or Bibby.

"In the playoffs the home court doesn't mean a thing," Motta added. "Remember, you only have to win two games to win this series and any little thing can have an effect on the outcome.I like our chances. We're the underdogs, so what do we have to lose?"