Unlike the Washington Bullets, who admitted they wanted no part of Philadelphia in the playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks showed no outward concern about meeting the 76ers in a best-of-three series this week.
By losing to the Bullets, 99-96, yesterday at Capital Centre, the Hawks finished in the sixth and last playoff spot and will play in Philadelphia Wednesday night. The second game will be Friday night in Atlanta and the third, if necessary, in Philadelphia Sunday.
Out West, the minseries matchups will feature Seattle with the home-court advantage against Houston and Denver with the home-court edge against Phoenix. The winner of the Seattle-Houston series will meet San Antonio; the victor in the Denver-Phoenix series will play Los Angeles.
After Denver defeated Dallas, 130-124, at home Saturday night, Houston was upset, 106-104, at Kansas City yesterday, and Phoenix was beaten at home by Los Angeles. The Nuggets, Rockets and Suns all finished 46-36, but the tie was broken by the teams' records in games among themselves. Denver was 7-4, Phoenix 5-5 and Houston 4-7.
"Atlanta is the sleeper of the playoffs," said Jack McMahon, Philadelphia's assistant coach scouting the Bullets-Hawks game yesterday. "They've got a lot of talent. They just got off to a slow start because of injuries."
Philadelphia was 3-3 against Atlanta this season and won two of the last three after Dan Roundfield, John Drew and Wayne (Tree) Rollins returned from injuries.
"They do a very good job of rebounding against us," McMahon said. "Roundfield and Rollins keep us from getting to the offensve boards and also from rebounding enough to run the way we like to. They try to slow us down and they play tough defense."
In the Hawks' three victories over Philadelphia, they limited the fast-breaking 76ers to fewer than 100 points in each game. In the last two games, Philadelphia has failed to score 90 points.
"We've been able to keep the score down against them," Coach Kevin Loughery said. "The key is to contain Dr. J (Julius Erving). He's the greatest player ever to play small forward and we can't afford to let him get going in a transistion game."
Hawks forward John Drew, whose specialty is offense, will have to defend against Erving, but he will get plenty of help.
"We double up or whatever it takes to try to keep the ball away from Doc," Drew said. "Then, when he gets it, we try to make him give it up. They are real good in the transistion game so we've got to cut that down if we want to play at our pace."
The best way to slow a team is by controlling the rebounding, and Roundfield, the Hawks' leading rebounder with 8.1 a game, thinks the Hawks can do it even though Darryl Dawkins has returned to full-time duty for the 76ers.
"We beat them twice when Darryl was playing," Roundfield said, with a smile. "We've beat them in Philly twice and that has to help us. We have the best defense in the league (yielding 100.4 points per game) and I think we can hold them to less than they can hold us."
Houston was the surprise of the playoffs last season, upsetting Los Angeles in the miniseries and going on to beat Midwest Division champion San Antonio and Kansas City to reach the finals; the Rockets lost the championship series to Boston. Now after losing at Kansas City, they will have to beat highly regarded Seattle and San Antonio to reach the Western finals. Seattle won the season series from Houston, 3-2.