The National Basketball Association's schedule makers rarely allow the weary to rest or reflect upon a job well done. Witness the Washington Bullets.
The day after a 93-88 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers that intimated its potential, a tired and battered Bullets team prepared yesterday for tonight's visit to Capital Centre by the defending league champion Boston Celtics. The tipoff is at 7:35.
With Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson resting nagging injuries and Cliff Robinson still away, the Bullets conducted a two-hour practice that consisted mainly of reviewing plays with a little four-on-four half-court work thrown in.
Of course, when it comes to playing the Celtics, the Bullets are old hands at combat in close quarters.
"I can't guarantee that it will continue this season, but in the past we've done a very good job against them," Coach Gene Shue said after practice at Bowie State College. "We don't let Robert Parish or Kevin McHale dominate us and we stop them from running."
However, the Bullets have been most vulnerable in a half-court situation this season, with opposing teams gaining measurable success by isolating players one on one.
This is generally accomplished in two ways.
One is to have the offensive player hold the ball near the top of the three-point line with his teammates spread out in a formation resembling a four-corners offense.
The other means of isolation, started by Philadelphia for Julius Erving, has the offensive player on one side of the court with everyone else off to the other side.
The Bullets have been hurt by isolations mainly because they lack a consistent shot blocker who can help the defender if he gets beaten to the basket. Also, the team's lack of practice time together hasn't allowed for work on the nuances -- knowing when to jump into a double team on the ball, for example -- needed to combat the set.
Shue believes that the isolation has become a league trend, and it has certainly reached Landover. The team worked almost exclusively from a one-four set in the final two minutes against the Clippers on Thursday. Gus Williams scored six of his 19 points during that span, including two long-range jumpers that kept Los Angeles at bay. The decisive scores came after the Bullets had blown an 18-point lead built with a combination of half-court execution and full-court fast breaking.
Through the first half, the Bullets had outscored Los Angeles in fast-break points, 18-0. That's not likely to happen against Boston.
"We're not ready as a team to do the things they can," said Shue.
The Celtics come in following a Friday night Boston Garden meeting with the 76ers as the two teams begin their annual duel for Atlantic Division supremacy.
Despite the often grueling nature of those games, Washington cannot look forward to an easy time with Boston. Over the last two seasons, the Celtics went 8-3 in next games after playing the 76ers.
Tonight will be the first chance the 1984-85 Bullets have to measure themselves against one of the NBA's truly elite teams, a challenge the club relishes.
"I wish we would get as psyched up for everybody else as we do for them," center Rick Mahorn said. "They're America's Team and you want to play well against them."
"There are just more people around for a game against a Boston or a Philly," said Williams. "The atmosphere is entirely different and you can get caught up in that when the adrenaline starts to flow."