Yesterday morning's practice at Bowie State College began positively enough for Washington Bullets center Jeff Ruland. Out on the floor 40 minutes before practice, he played a number of shooting games with forward Rick Mahorn, including a spirited one-on-one contest.
A short time later, Ruland huddled off in a corner with Coach Gene Shue. A little while after that, he adjourned to the locker room, where he took off his basketball shoes and replaced them with a pair used for jogging. While the rest of the team ran through plays, Ruland ran through the streets surrounding the campus. When he returned, he confirmed what now was obvious: there would be no return in tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Capital Centre (Home Team Sports, 7:35).
Although Ruland is eligible to be reactivated after missing five games due to a strained right shoulder, Shue said he would remain on the injured list at the present time. "We talked about it and, although his range of motion has definitely improved, he said it still hurts when he has to reach up to grab the basketball."
Ruland said, "I guess it was a case of too much wishful thinking. There's still too much pain for me to try and play at the present time."
The Bullets have no plans to sign another player to a 10-day contract, having released Don Collins Saturday after the conclusion of his 10-day pact. With the team carrying 11 players, Ruland is eligible to come off the injured list at any time, although his status remains "day to day," as it has been for the last two months. He has missed 31 of the team's past 32 games.
The announcement, or rather the lack of one, lent an air of status quo to practice as the Bullets continued to look for ways to compensate for Ruland's absence. "There's really not a lot that can be done," Shue said. "That's why it was such a bummer losing on Saturday (103-98, to Boston). We played a fine game, controlled Larry Bird and outrebounded them. So what happens? We only shoot 10 free throws.
"Even still, there's not a lot that can be done about that because right now we're really a team of jump shooters."
Things won't get any easier for Washington tonight against Milwaukee, until last week, the only squad that the defending NBA champion Celtics had not defeated.
The Bucks (50-21) have the probable NBA coach of the year in Don Nelson and a formidable threesome in Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey. Moncrief and Cummings were members of the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Pressey, 6 feet 6, starts at small forward but more often than not winds up directing Nelson's offense, in effect playing the "point forward" position.
Nelson has done a good job of combining the threesome with players who fill in well. While Alton Lister and Craig Hodges are the other starters, the coach can call upon a deep bench, including Ricky Pierce, Paul Mokeski, Paul Thompson and former Bullet Charles Davis.