Even if the Bullets can't contain high-scoring Ray Williams again, they still have an excellent opportunity to beat New Jersey tonight and advance to a best-of-seven series against Boston if they maintain their rebounding supremacy.
The team that dominates the rebounding when the Nets come to Capital Centre (8:30, WTOP-1500) for the almost sold out second game of a best-of-three playoff series will have the opportunity to play the game at its pace.
If Buck Williams and Co. outrebound the Bullets, the Nets will be able to get their running game going and free Ray Williams (20.4 scoring average) in the open court. A New Jersey victory would force a third game at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Meadowlands. If the Bullets win tonight, they will play the Celtics Sunday afternoon in Boston.
The Nets probably again will be without their playmaker, Foots Walker, who sprained his right ankle Saturday in Detroit and sat out the Bullets' 96-83 victory Tuesday night.
"I don't think I can do anything near what I'm capable of doing, but I've got to give it a shot," Walker told the New York Daily News yesterday. "I'm going to work out Friday morning and see how it feels. I'm walking all right, but once I stop and try to turn, I can't do it."
Coach Larry Brown said he isn't counting on the eight-year veteran and again will start Darwin Cook alongside Ray Williams in the back court. Cook made only six of 18 shots in the opener and Williams just four of 19.
"Realistically, it's not likely that we'll be able to do as good a defensive job against Ray as we did last time," Coach Gene Shue said. "He's a great offensive player and he's probably going to get his 25 to 30 points, so we've got to stop the other guys. We've got to contain Cook and Buck."
Rick Mahorn again will draw the assignment of guarding Buck Williams and keeping him off the offensive boards. If the second-year center from Hampton Institute can neutralize the Nets' leading rebounder, Jeff Ruland, Greg Ballard and Spencer Haywood should be able to outrebound Len Elmore, Albert King and James Bailey.
"We'll have all five guys going to the boards," Mahorn said yesterday after a 2 1/2-hour workout at Bowie State. "If some of us can just box our men out, somebody else can get the rebound. Buck is a very aggressive player and he goes after a lot of offensive rebounds. He doesn't look for the jump shot that much, but he always seems to be around the ball."
Williams led all scorers with 23 points in the first game. The first-round draft choice from Maryland also had nine of the Nets' 14 offensive rebounds.
With Ruland, in a substitute role, getting a career-high 20 rebounds, the Bullets outrebounded the Nets, 48-40, Tuesday night. By dominating the rebounding, they were able to slow the pace, set up their half-court offense and control the game once they took the lead.
Mahorn was the key to the Bullets' rally when he scored eight points late in the third quarter and opened the fourth period with two jumpers.
"If I can hit a couple of jumpers from around the foul circle, that brings Buck out away from the basket," Mahorn explained. "Once we get him outside, that opens up things for Jeff and Spencer. If we can get Jeff down low against Elmore, he can use his strength to get position and score."
"There's no secret to this game," Shue said. "To beat the Nets we've got to stop their fast break, play good defense and be aggressive on the boards." Semifinal Opener Set --
If the Bullets win tonight, the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Celtics will begin in Boston Sunday at 1 p.m. and Game 2 would be played at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Boston. Games 3 and 4 would then be at Capital Centre on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 and 2, at 1:05.
If the series with New Jersey goes to a third game Sunday at the Meadowlands, and the Bullets win, they will play the first two games of the next series against the Celtics in Boston next Tuesday and Wednesday with both games starting at 7:30. The third and fourth games would still be Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Capital Centre.
The remaining games, if necessary, have not been scheduled yet.