The Philadelphia 76ers, the team with the best record in the National Basketball Association, will come into Capital Centre tonight with a couple of scores to settle.
Fresh off a 122-120 overtime victory against the defending league champion Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, the 76ers, 25-5, haven't lost a game since the Bullets upset them, 100-97, here Dec. 18.
Not only did the Bullets win that game, but blind backcourt screens by Bullets center Rick Mahorn sent Andrew Toney to the hospital with a shoulder injury and Maurice Cheeks to the dressing room with a headache.
Later, 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham excoriated Mahorn and sent films of the game to the NBA office for review, asking the league to take punitive action.
"I kind of resented that," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue, who was replaced as 76ers coach by Cunningham early in 1977. "They sent the film to the league office and the league did absolutely nothing about it except to tell Philadelphia that the picks were legal. It's all part of basketball.
"If they (the 76ers) want to press us in the backcourt, we're going to beat it any way we can. If they get picked, it's their problem. They shouldn't be blaming our team. It's their own fault if they don't help each other by calling out the picks.
"I guess they're doing what they can to win, and so are we.
"I hope they (the 76ers) are psyched up for us and will play like they have something to prove to us," added Shue. "That's the fun of playing these things."
And while the 76ers were protesting the way Mahorn set picks, the players accepted the Bullets' physical play as part of the game. Toney, who missed the following game with a sprained shoulder, said it was his fault for running into Mahorn. Clint Richardson, who later was caught with an illegal pick by Mahorn, said he wished he had a Mahorn on his team.
The Bullets were able to beat the 76ers that time by controlling the tempo and outrebounding them, 53-46, although the 76ers are the top rebounding team in the NBA.
The Bullets were a different team, then, however. Frank Johnson hurt his elbow late in that game and hasn't played since, and that game Don Collins first started feeling pain in his left foot, from a stress fracture.
"We're going to be undermanned, which will make it tough, but I know we're going to play hard," said Shue.
One of the keys in the last meeting was Shue having Mahorn guard Julius Erving. Mahorn prevented Erving from posting inside, and, even though Erving had 20 points, he didn't get into the flow of the game.
Shue said yesterday Mahorn will begin this game guarding Erving. Dave Batton is expected to continue starting in place of Spencer Haywood and will match up against Moses Malone, the NBA's leading rebounder. Greg Ballard will guard Marc Iavaroni.
"Iavaroni doesn't look to play offense much, so that will allow Greg to give us some help underneath," said Shue. "We'll probably front Moses, so Greg can help behind him."
With Jeff Ruland and Haywood, who has missed the last two games with an eye injury, ready in reserve, the Bullets feel they can hold their own in the frontcourt. It's in the backcourt where there are doubts.
Bryan Warrick and Kevin Grevey may be overmatched against Toney and Cheeks.
"We're going to have to give Kevin help on Toney," said Shue, "and a lot depends on how Kevin plays. If I need defense I'll put Carlos (Terry) in and if Kevin can't hit a shot again, I'll use Charles (Davis)."
Grevey made only one of 10 shots against Dallas Tuesday and Shue used Davis, normally a small forward, at shooting guard late in the game.
Shue called Toney "the guy they (the 76ers) go to when it counts. He's their best one-on-one player."
Toney had 28 points and eight assists against the Lakers Wednesday and made the game-winning shot with five seconds left in overtime after beating a double-team by Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes and shooting over James Worthy.
Fewer than 2,700 tickets remained late yesterday for the 8:05 game . . . Malone has a slight muscle pull in his back, but is expected to play.