The Washington Bullets will play the first of five games in seven days when they meet the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre tonight at 7:30, and they are worried about the availability of center Jeff Ruland and forward Cliff Robinson.
Ruland missed the last three games of the just-completed four-game road trip because of a strained right shoulder. Team doctors examined him yesterday, listed him as doubtful for tonight's game and said his availability is on a day-to-day basis.
Robinson's injured right leg also was examined, and, even though Robinson was said to be a lot better, he was listed as questionable for tonight.
Ruland was hurt in the third quarter of last Monday's 101-91 victory over the Cavaliers but completed the game. The next morning, he awoke in pain, saying he couldn't raise his right arm above his head. In Salt Lake City Tuesday afternoon, a doctor for the Utah Jazz put Ruland's arm in a sling, saying the rotator cuff might be torn slightly. Ruland sat out Wednesday's 103-101 victory over the Jazz, then had more treatment Thursday in Denver.
Doctors there agreed with the original diagnosis, adding that it was just a matter of time until Ruland could play. Time wasn't on his side, though, and the shoulder kept him out of Friday's 108-106 loss to Denver and Saturday's 103-98 loss to the Kansas City Kings. But the Bullets' trainer, John Lally, said there was no talk of putting Ruland on the injured list before today's examination.
Robinson's injury is just as perplexing. After he was hurt Jan. 13 in the Bullets' 115-104 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, doctors said he had strained his right knee and sprained his right ankle. Nevertheless, he accompanied the team that night to Cleveland.
When X-rays showed no fractures, Bullets' Coach Gene Shue thought Robinson could return to the lineup during the trip. That never happened. The leg didn't respond to treatment and swelled in the high altitudes of Utah and Colorado.
Even though Robinson didn't play on the trip, Shue was pleased to have him along. "There's no doubt that we need him out on the court," Shue said, "but it's important that he be a part of the team in all aspects. His being here was good for morale."
By the end of the trip, Robinson was walking much better, but his status remained day-to-day.
If there was any encouraging aspect to the absence of Washington's two leading rebounders, it was the way the Bullets played throughout the trip, even though their record of 22-19 left them only three games ahead of fourth-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division.
Tom McMillen replaced Ruland against Utah, playing 45 minutes and scoring 20 points. Rick Mahorn replaced Ruland against Denver, getting 25 points and 16 rebounds.
"Considering who they're missing, you would have to say that they played excellent basketball," Kansas City's coach, Phil Johnson, said, "both against us and for the entire week."
Still, the team has no illusions about this week. "We really need to get our big fella back in there," said forward Greg Ballard, who, like McMillen, played the last two games on the trip despite back spasms.