It hardly was a typical practice. Instead of methodically running their plays, stressing execution and timing, the Washington Bullets were racing wildly up and down the court.
Although the last thing Coach Gene Shue wants is to get into a running match with the high-scoring Denver Nuggets today at Capital Centre (1:05, WTOP-Radio-1500), he felt he had to prepare his players for his opponents' racehorse style of play.
"Playing the Nuggets is like playing in the Urban Coalition League," said Kevin Grevey. "Anybody who's played in the summer league should know how to play against Denver."
As usual, the Nuggets rank first in the league in team offense, averaging 123 points a game. And, typical of their style of play, they are last in defense, yielding 124 points.
The Nuggets must have been weary when they arrived here yesterday after their game Friday night in Boston, where they lost a 145-144 decision when Robert Parish made a jumper with two seconds to play.
At the end of the first quarter, Boston had built a 50-27 lead. By halftime, the Nuggets had 71 points and trailed by 14. But with forwards Kiki Vandeweghe (40 points) and Alex English leading the way, the Nuggets rallied to take the lead late in the game, only to be foiled by Parish's shot.
"They're just like (Coach) Doug Moe's teams used to be in San Antonio," Grevey said. "They just run and run and run. If you get caught up in their games, you can be in trouble.
"Their guards just push it up every time they get it," the veteran guard continued. "They take off, penetrate and get the ball to the forwards. Both their forwards can run the court and so can Dan (Issel). He's 33 and he can still grab a rebound, outlet the ball and get down and fill a lane."
The Nuggets' starting front line combines for an average of 68 points a game. English, a 6-foot-7 all-star selection, leads the way with a 26-point average. Issel is scoring at a 22-point pace and Vandeweghe is averaging 20 points a game.
"English is an outstanding all-around player," said Shue. "Vandeweghe is a good offensive player. He can hit the outside shot, he's a runner and he can put the ball on the floor."
The most surprising thing about the Nuggets' 24-22 record despite losses at Indiana and Boston on this trip, is that they're winning with a couple of castoffs, Kenny Higgs and T.R. Dunn, in the back court.
Higgs, a third-round draft choice of Cleveland in 1978, was waived out of the league the following year after averaging five points a game in limited duty as a rookie. He was unemployed for a year, but impressed Moe with his quickness in the Los Angeles summer league and was signed last season.
The 6-foot, former LSU star opened that season as a starter, but midway through the year he was waived again. He was re-signed after a guard was injured, and finished strong, setting a Denver NBA club record with 5.7 assists per game. On this high-scoring team, however, he's averaging only seven points.
Dunn, a second-round draft choice of Portland in '77, never was considered an offensive threat. He has a career .432 shooting percentage and a six-point scoring average. However, he's an excellent offensive rebounder and the team's best defensive player.
Oh, yes, there's a fellow named David Thompson on this team and, when he's in the mood, he's still one of the most exciting players in the league.
Although he came back from his problems during the 1979-80 season to finish fifth in the league in scoring last year with a 25-point mark, the 27-year-old former North Carolina State all-America has been unable to crack the starting lineup recently. But despite playing only 21 minutes a game, Thompson is fourth on the team in scoring with a 16-point average.
"The key to beating Denver is to control the pace," said Shue, who again will be without the service of his leading scorer, injured Greg Ballard (sprained right ankle). "We'll do a lot of posting up because Issel isn't that big and it will force them to run the length of the court and keep them from getting long rebounds and taking off.
"Every play we run will be geared to having someone in position to be back on defense to cut off their break. We have to take time off the clock and be smart with our shot selection."
Magic Johnson suffered a sprained right arch in the fourth quarter of Los Angeles' come-from-behind, 90-87 victory over the Bullets Friday night and won't play in today's nationally televised game in Boston.
The All-Star guard, who led the Lakers with 22 points, was limping yesterday when he left for Boston and said he probably will be out from five to seven days. Michael Cooper will start in his spot.
"I grabbed the rebound and was trying to throw long," Johnson explained. "(Rick) Mahorn and I got tangled up. I tried to counteract what he did and got in an awkward spot. The x-rays were negative, but the foot still is very sore."