When the Washington Bullets entered the locker room following their fifth consecutive victory -- a 118-104 decision over the New York Knicks Friday at Capital Centre -- some of the players broke out in song. The Mamas and the Papas' "Monday, Monday," to be exact. The idea was to persuade Coach Gene Shue to give the team the weekend off.
"I told them to hell with that," Shue said. "The work will do us good."
So it was that the team met for practice today at Bowie State College, despite singing, dancing and winning streaks. Actually, Shue's point about the team needing work, despite its recent fine play, shouldn't be taken lightly. The upcoming week finds Washington playing four games in five nights.
Included in that stretch are contests against the defending champion Boston Celtics and their immediate predecessors, the Philadelphia 76ers, as well as a game against the Detroit Pistons, considered by many to be the team most capable of joining them atop the NBA heap.
Not only are the first two teams considered part of the NBA's top echelon, they are also ahead of the 7-5 Bullets -- by 2 1/2 and 1 1/2 games respectively -- in the standings of the Atlantic Division.
For Gus Williams, who led the Bullets in scoring for the 10th time in 12 games this season with 25 points against the Knicks, that's a more important incentive than trying to become one of the elite. "Every game is important. The last five have been just as big as the next five," Williams said. "To move up in the standings you have to be competitive and win against everybody. It doesn't matter if we play Boston, or the Knicks again tomorrow."
One has to have the feeling that, given a choice, the Bullets would take their chances with New York right now. Friday night's loss was the seventh consecutive setback on the road for the Knickerbockers, now 2-9.
Part of the Knicks' troubles have been injuries. Center Bill Cartwright, who led the team in scoring against Washington last season, is sidelined for another two months with a stress fracture in his left foot. In addition, forwards Truck Robinson and Eddie Wilkins are out of the lineup with injuries.
But for the past two seasons the team has revolved around forward Bernard King anyhow and Friday night was no exception. Held by Washington to 18 points last Tuesday in New York, King scored 34 in the rematch, including the Knicks' final 17 points of the third period.
But King's output was more than made up for by the Bullets' depth. Cliff Robinson scored 22 points, Darren Daye 16 and Jeff Malone 13. The play of the starting lineup was equally impressive, Williams scoring 25 points with seven assists and Jeff Ruland completing a triple double of 22 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
While it's standard for players to prefer game action to practice, many of the Bullets -- like Ruland, who's shopping for a new house -- feel the three days between Friday's game and Tuesday's encounter with the 76ers can be both positive and useful.
"For the next two weeks we have stretches of four games in five nights," says Greg Ballard. "We'll need the time to rest and regroup going into that."
Unlike Williams, Ballard is of the persuasion that the upcoming week is a chance to prove to the powers that be that Washington is for real. "If you want to be one of the best you have to play against the best. Playing Philly in Philly and Boston in Boston, you play them tough this week and over the course of the series and you've proven you belong."
Ruland, looking at the reserve strength that has given him enough rest that he "feels like a spring chicken," also looks at the upcoming week with anticipation.
"Now is the time to show what we can do. We played Philly and Boston tough when we were undermanned," he said. "I like our chances more than ever now."