Fresh from a five-day vacation, the Washington Bullets should find out over the next 11 days if they have reasonable hopes of gaining the playoffs or if they've been living in a dream world the past three weeks.
They open a seven-game swing, their longest and toughest of the season, Tuesday night in Memorial Coliseum against the Portland Trail Blazers (WDCA-TV-20, 10:30). From Portland, they go to Seattle to play the SuperSonics Wednesday, then play at Golden State, Phoenix, Denver, Philadelphia and Detroit before returning to Capital Centre Feb. 17 to face the Trail Blazers again.
"We've won 10 of our last 12 and we are playing well, but we can't get too excited," cautioned forward Mitch Kupchak, one of the players most responsible for the 26-28 team's recent success. "We're doing the right things to win, but most of the victories were at home. We're playing some good teams on this trip and it's tough to beat good teams anywhere, especially on the road. We can't get too confident or kid ourselves about how good we are. We have to keep playing as hard as we can every night."
Coach Gene Shue, who said the all-star break came at the worst time for the Bullets, wants to win all seven games, of course. But, realistically, the trip will be a success if the Bullets win three of the seven.
The Bullets should be able to defeat the Sonics, the Nuggets and the Pistons. They are 6-0 against those teams this season, having beaten Denver and Seattle once each at Capital Centre and Detroit four straight times.
The Bullets have 28 games left. They are one game behind the Chicago Bulls for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and five games behind the Indiana Pacers for the fifth spot.
The all-star break may have slowed the Bullets' momentum, but it also gave them a chance to get well. Wes Unseld, who had a sore knee for the last month, needed the rest badly. Elvin Hayes was starting to show the strain of playing so much.
After a rocky start, the Trail Blazers have evened their record at 27-27 and are particularly tough on their floor.
Portland has juggled lineups most of the season, but with musclemen such as Tom Owens, Mychal Thompson, Kermit Washington and Calvin Natt up front, Coach Jack Ramsey can use numerous combinations. Playing Bob Gross at small forward allows the Trail Blazers to run, and Jim Paxson and rookie Kelvin Ransey from Ohio State have developed into solid guards.