When the Washington Bullets take on the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series -- a game that will be the last of the season for one of the teams -- players on both sides will know what to expect.
"It's no holds barred, and you want to leave everything you have out there on the floor," said Washington forward Dan Roundfield. "You'll dive for loose balls and do things that you might not normally do, because if you lose, that's it."
The Bullets haven't advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs since 1981. It has been even longer since they have won a five- or seven-game series with a final-game victory; in 1979, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the San Antonio Spurs.
That is in marked contrast to the 76ers, who in the past decade have been an NBA power and compiled the best overall record in the league. Last season, Philadelphia advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Two seasons before that, it won the league championship.
After Sunday's game, however, sweeping changes could be in the offing for the team that's left behind. Do the Bullets stand pat with a squad that has been decimated by injury over the past two seasons?
What about the 76ers, who have a 36-year-old (Julius Erving) starting at guard? Then there's Moses Malone. The 12-year veteran, a two-time most valuable player, has a broken bone beneath his right eye that has kept him sidelined since March 28. Malone is 31, with years of pounding behind him, and there was talk of him slowing down even before his injury.
But the future doesn't concern either team as much as the present. History doesn't count for much, either, according to the Bullets. Neither does the fact that Game 5 is at the Spectrum.
"I think playing at home puts the pressure on them," said Cliff Robinson, who helped send the series to a fifth game with a 31-point, 11-rebound effort in Game 4, a 116-111 Washington victory Thursday. "When you're at home, you think that you've got to do well; a lot of times that works against a team, especially at the start of the game."
In each of the previous four games, the Bullets have excelled in the first half, especially the opening minutes. Their problems have come in the latter portions of the third and fourth quarters, when the strain of trying to keep relentless pounders such as Charles Barkley, Terry Catledge and Clemon Johnson off the offensive boards has taken its toll.
"But that's why it's so nice to have Jeff Ruland back," said Robinson, "Rebounding is the thing that we're going to have to do to win, and that's one of the things he does best."
Having Ruland available to join Roundfield off of the bench will help the Bullets, especially with Malone unavailable to the 76ers.
Washington Coach Kevin Loughery will bring the center/forward into the game for short spurts, as he did in Ruland's 13-point, seven-rebound, five-assist return in Game 4. It's a move that's not likely to surprise Philadelphia.
"Everybody knows what everybody else is gonna do," said Loughery, "Now it's the fun part. You just have to go out and perform."
After a brief workout this morning at Bowie State College, Loughery said he had a suspicion that the 76ers might come up with a slight wrinkle. "There won't be any dramatic changes, but I think he Philadelphia Coach Matt Guokas may change his starting lineup, maybe use Bobby Jones or Johnson for Greg Stokes."
If that is the case, it will put even more pressure on the Bullets to maintain rebounding balance with the 76ers. After being outrebounded by 166-106 in the first three games, Washington outrebounded Philadelphia, 44-40, in Game 4. Even so, the game was in doubt until the final moments, largely because of the play of 76ers guard Maurice Cheeks, who scored 30 points.
"He's going to get some jumpers because of the way we're double-teaming inside," said Loughery. "The other night, though, he did a lot on his own."
And Ruland, a strong inside player, also can do a lot for a team.
"This is what I came back for from knee surgery nearly a month ago , a game like Sunday's," he said. Then, looking ahead to a possible conference semifinal matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, he added: "And next Tuesday and Wednesday and the games after that."