Although the status of Bullets center/forward Jeff Ruland won't be determined until hours before tonight's playoff game at Capital Centre against the Philadelphia 76ers, Coach Kevin Loughery said yesterday, "It looks like Jeff will be able to play some."
Ruland, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 31, participated in a 1 1/2-hour workout yesterday at Bowie State College as the Bullets prepared to try to avoid elimination tonight at 8 in the best-of-five first-round series, which the 76ers lead, 2-1.
Although the Bullets did not scrimmage full court, Ruland ran up and down the court in several drills, apparently without discomfort.
After the practice, he was low key.
"I'm going to try to play but I really don't want to talk about it. I'm taking the fifth amendment," Ruland said, laughing. "No, really, I'm going to have to wait until after the shoot-around this morning to try to decide."
In the past week, Ruland has been running on a treadmill as part of his rehabilitation. On Tuesday, he progressed to running on the court. Yesterday's workout was the final test, and Ruland said he would call his physician, Dr. Kenneth DeHaven in Rochester, N.Y., to give him a progress report. Ruland emphasized he alone would make the decision after hearing DeHaven's recommendation.
But just the prospect of Ruland's return cheered Loughery. "This was a big test for him," Loughery said after the practice. "It looks like Jeff will be able to play some. If so, that will give us an added dimension in the areas that have concerned us, rebounding and scoring."
Ruland's shooting touch is likely to be rusty, given that he played in only 30 games this season, averaging 19 points and 10.7 rebounds. However, it doesn't take much timing to set up and clear room underneath the basket for rebounds, especially for someone 6 feet 11 and 275 pounds.
"You know that whenever he's out there he's going to work hard," said the Bullets' Dan Roundfield. "I don't think he'd come back if he didn't think that he could help us. Just seeing him suit up would be a big lift."
Ruland's presence would make it more difficult for the 76ers to muscle into prime rebounding position, which they have been able to do throughout the series.
In addition to the 76ers' basic superiority underneath, other factors have contributed to Philadelphia's 166-106 dominance of the backboards. The primary one is the Bullets' tendency to go cold from the field, a problem all season. When Washington begins to miss -- as it did in the second half of Tuesday's 91-86 loss, hitting just 13 of 43 field goal attempts -- there simply are more rebounds available. And the 76ers have taken advantage through the fast break.
Early in each game, Washington has controlled the tempo and style. Part of the reason has been its ability to play position basketball and strong defense.
More important, however, is the Bullets' shooting. In the first half Tuesday, the Bullets shot 54 percent from the field and took a 53-44 lead.
Washington's cold spells have come in the second half, and the 76ers have capitalized, never more than Tuesday, when they outscored the Bullets by 12-4 in the final 5:30 of the third quarter and by 16-4 in the opening 6:30 of the fourth.
"If we can shoot 50 percent from the floor, we could hold them to a very low score," said Loughery. "When we go dry, they're getting more rebounds and it's somebody like Charles Barkley or Julius Erving, who can just take it out of the pack and lead the fast break."
Having put Washington into a position of relying on a half-court offense, the 76ers have also done a better job of defending against guard Jeff Malone. That task was made simpler in Game 3 by Cliff Robinson's early foul problems, a factor that took the Bullets' other big scorer out of the lineup for prolonged stretches.
"That really limited our offensive ability," Loughery said. "With Cliff out, they could really concentrate on Jeff. I don't think I've ever seen so many double- and triple-teams on a guard before."
Poor timing or not, Ruland probably would help to alleviate that, Loughery said. "With Jeff inside, you have to guard him."