The Bullets are talking nothing but bull, or Bulls, today, the team they must beat tonight, the team with whom they are in contention for the last playoff spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
After tonight's game in Chicago (8:30, WDCA-TV-20), the Bullets, who trail the Bulls by a half game in the race to see who gets to meet Boston in the first round of the playoffs should the standings remain the same, will either be a half-game ahead or 1 1/2 behind.
All games against the Bulls are big because they are; this one qualifies as an extra-large. "We're due to beat Chicago," said Coach Gene Shue, no doubt thinking of this year's 0-4 record against the Bulls. We're the two teams to finish with identical records, the playoff spot would go to the Bulls because of their edge in the head-to-head series.
Elvin Hayes, who was talking with confidence after shooting with confidence against New York Wednesday night, said: "I think we're in a very good position. We have two games with Chicago. . . . And we have a much better road-and-home schedule."
The Bullets have 16 games remaining, including tonight's. The Bulls have 15. But of the last 12 games, the Bulls eight on the road. The Bullets must face Chicago and Central Division leader Milwaukee on the road this weekend. They also have back-to-back games against the Celtics to look forward to, as well as another visit by the Knicks.
Chicago must play the league-leading 76ers, whom they have not beaten this season, home and away, and the Knicks (2-2), the team with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, twice at New York. In one five-game stretch beginning March 4, Chicago will face Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, New York and Kansas City on the road.
And they are already struggling. The Bulls have lost five of their last six, and are 5-8 since the All-Star break. Assistant Coach Phil Johnson, who was at Capital Centre Wednesday scouting the Bullets, said: "We played as well as we can play and lost to the Lakers (107-97)."
Hayes, who had been one of the Bullets' missing pieces until his 31-point game against New York, said: "Once you're in the playoffs, the teams with the best records don't mean anything. There's more pressure on them because they are expected to win. No one expects anything from us. That's the way it was when we got in in 1978. We were the underdogs all the way through."
The Bullets' Austin Carr has a bad back and did not make the trip to Chicago. He was examined yesterday and it is uncertain when he will be able to rejoin the team.