1983-84 Boston Celtics
The Celtics should take a long look at the Washington Bullets tonight. Six weeks from now the Celtics are likely to face a five- game, first-round playoff with Washington, which is tantamount to going 15 rounds with Larry Holmes or making a run down a luge course in a trash barrel. Confronted with the prospect of meeting the Celtics in the playoffs, Washington's 6-foot-11, 240-pound Jeff Ruland rubs his hands together and says, "I wouldn't mind that at all. We just match up well against them at every position." Mr. All Beef Patty speaks the truth. The Bullets are 4-5 against the Celtics in the last two seasons and have outrebounded Boston by a whopping 34 in three games this year.
Meanwhile, the Bullets are less than ordinary people against almost everyone else in the NBA. They didn't make the playoffs last season and currently reside in last place in the Atlantic this year with a 27-34 record. They've lost three in a row and four of their last five but remain locked into the eighth playoff spot - three games ahead of Chicago (ninth) and 4 1/2 behind New Jersey (seventh).
"They always play us well," admits Celtic forward Cedric Maxwell. "Some teams they look bad against, but those they match up with they're capable of beating. And we're one of those teams. They play the half-court game and grind it down and physically try to beat you to death." Ruland is the toughest Bullet to stop. The All-Star forward missed two games last week with tendinitis in his left knee and didn't practice yesterday, but he'll be there tonight.
Center Rick Mahorn is feared as one of the league's allegedly dirtiest players. Maxwell will have to guard forward Greg Ballard, Washington's shooter. Guards Ricky Sobers and Frank Johnson usually shoot very well against the Celtics. Rookies Jeff Malone and Darren Daye fill in for Sobers and Johnson. Tom McMillen and Joe Kopicki help out up front. "They have a special interest when they play us," says Celtic coach K.C. Jones. "Their offense has all kinds of options and they execute it very well. When Ruland gets the ball they know he's going to shoot, so they all pack in and that helps their rebounding. They've got the beef to go to the boards and they use it. They've always been a good rebounding team."
The Celtics are not at full strength. Larry Bird and Danny Ainge did not practice yesterday and Kevin McHale turned his right ankle during the workout. Bird has a sore area on his back, below his right shoulder, and Jones decided to have him sit out yesterday. "I'll play," Bird said after practice. Ainge still has a stiff neck from running into Seattle's Steve Hawes Sunday; he is doubtful. McHale iced down his ankle after practice and said he'd be ready tonight . . . The Bullets are 18-10 at home, having won six of their last nine at the Capital Centre. Boston beat the Bullets here, 120-117, on Nov. 5 . . . Dennis Johnson is in a shooting slump: he has made only six of 26 shots in the last three games.