Gene Shue knows all about history.
He knows that only one team -- the 1956 Fort Wayne Pistons -- has ever recovered from an 0-2 deficit in games to win an NBA best-of-five series. They beat the old St. Louis Hawks that year in the Western Division finals.
And yet, Shue also has been around the NBA long enough to know that anything can happen in the playoffs. Maybe that's why he remained optimistic about a turnabout in his team's series against the Philadelphia 76ers as the Bullets drilled at Bowie State College yesterday.
"Wednesday will be another day," said Shue, speaking of the third and possibly deciding game, to be played at Capital Centre.
"The way they (the 76ers) played defense on Sunday is something that we usually like, we just didn't do enough with it," he said. "Even still, we played great for a half, not bad for three quarters. I don't think the score was indicative of how close the two teams are to each other. Normally in a blowout you have no chance at all to win, but we were in the game."
The Bullets know about history, too. They also know there is nothing they can do about the two losses, so why dwell on the negative. As center Jeff Ruland said, "Nothing's going to get done by talking. What we have to do is make our adjustments and take them out on the floor."
During their Monday afternoon practice the team also had time to reflect on Sunday's 113-94 loss. In the series opener, a 104-97 loss, the game was close until the final two minutes. Sunday, after playing a strong first half, the Bullets found themselves collapsing under the weight of Philadelphia's relentless pressure.
At the start of the series it seemed possible the winner would be decided by subtle nuances. However, Sunday's game delivered a sharp blow to the jaw that could find some of the Bullets reeling.
"That's something that I usually enjoy but after being away for four months I'm a little tired right now," said Ruland, speaking about his tete a tete with the 76ers' Moses Malone.
Part of Ruland's frustration may stem from the ever-changing Philadelphia defense, which constantly double-teamed him in the first game last Wednesday but laid off for the most part on Sunday, leaving 6-foot-10, 255-pound Malone to grapple with the 6-11, 265-pounder.
"I kept waiting and waiting for them to come over but they never did until I put the ball on the floor," Ruland said. "Then they were everywhere."
"Jeff is a power-in type player and if they can have one guy control him it's to their advantage because they can play everyone else straight up," said Shue. "It's not like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his great hook. You have to double-team him right away, you can't let him wheel across the lane unencumbered."
What the Bullets could use is all 12 members of the team in the same place at the same time. Jeff Malone scored 30 points in Sunday's loss but is still moving stiffly because of a bad back. His running mate at guard, Gus Williams, has had his moments but is a collective 12 for 30 from the field. That was par for the course during the regular season but short of the something extra his team now needs.
"It's not about any one guy doing it or not doing it," Williams said yesterday. "Everybody on the team has to do their part."
Up front, no one has been able to string together two impressive games, either. Cliff Robinson had a strong first game but got into early foul trouble on Sunday and finished with just nine points. "I think we can play against them," Robinson said. "But we have to suck it up and do it."
The 76ers coach, Billy Cunningham, also knows this series if far from over. A year ago, the 76ers faced an 0-2 deficit against the New Jersey Nets, then won two on the road, before losing the series final.
"Because of last year, I don't think we can allow ourselves to feel good about what we've accomplished," Cunningham said. "It's an exact opposite situation from last season so I know what Washington is capable of."
Cunningham added that he's not entirely certain that all of the onus for preparation and adjustment belongs on the Bullets. "They're just so hard to prepare for," he said. "Sometimes you can look at a team and say, 'Well, we'll give them the jumper, or this or that.' But people like Jeff Malone and Gus Williams can fill it up and their balance between the inside and outside game is so good."
"No, we will not be overconfident going into Washington on Wednesday," said 76ers guard Maurice Cheeks. "We were like them going into New Jersey last year and were able to get two wins there. We'll be ready."
The Bullets are expecting approximately 10,000 for Wednesday's game. According to Tom Ward, the team's director of marketing, sales were running "at about 500 tickets per day," before Sunday's loss. "Had we gotten a split (of the first two games), it wouldn't be inconceivable that we could have reached about 15,000," Ward said.
The two games in Philadelphia drew a disappointing average of about 8,000 per game. Ironically, there could be many people at Capital Centre rooting for the visitors Wednesday.
"When the Sixers come to town we usually get 20 or so buses from the Richmond and Petersburg areas of Virginia," Ward said. "The people will remember Julius Erving from his days in the ABA, and Petersburg is where Moses (Malone) grew up."