Not long ago, all Mike Riordan had to look forward to on the basketball court was practice. The games were left to bigger and younger teammates.

Riordan, 31, never complained.

Now that it is playoff time, Washington Bullets' coach Dick Motta has turned to Riordan and the 6-foot-4 forward and part-time guard is ready. Motta knew he would be.

After averaging a minute a game in the previous six games, Riordan was called on to put the defensive clamps on a hot Bingo Smith Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Not only did Riordan cool down Smith, he scored eight points to help the Bullets to an overtime victory.

He came back against Chicago Wednesday night and was instrumental in the Bullets' 97-96 victory at Capital Centre. Riordan made all three of his shots and had three assists. He played most of the fourth quarter.

"Bags (Riordan) definitely fits into our playoff plans," Motta said yesterday after sending the Bullets through an easy one-hour workout at the Centre.

"He's moving free and easy and his shot is going in. And you know he's playing the hell out of the defense. He's got the experience and we'll use it."

It has been a trying season for Riordan, much like it has been for teammate Dave Bing. The difference is that Bing began the season as a starter and, according to Motta, played his way out of the lineup. He has since returned as one of the Bullets' most reliable shooters as a reserve.

Riordan, on the other hand, never figured in the Bullets' plans this season. He didn't have a position to play his way out of.

Motta has admitted that he may have made a mistake by giving the small forward spot to the since-traded Leonard Robinson, instead of putting it up for grabs.

Riordan would have preferred it that way, too, but he always worked hard, kept a smile on his face and his mouth shut.

"I didn't think I could have accomplished anything by complaining," Riordan said. "I preferred to handle it through the team. I didn't want to make a public issue out of anything. If a coach has his mind made up about who he wants to play, there's nothing you can say, anyway.

"I never thought I was through, though. If there wasn't a spot for me here, I thought there was somewhere else. I hope there's a spot for me here next year, too."

In the recent past, Riordan mostly sat and watched the games. Now he feels more a part of the Bullets' success.

"It's fun again," he said. "The only time I had fun before was at practice and when we won. But even then it wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been because I wasn't playing very much."

How much Riordan plays in the future depends on how well Kevin Grevey and Leonard Gray performs, and on how much Motta wants to use Mitch Mupchak at the small forward spot.But as Motta has said more than once, "I always have Riordan, He'll be ready."

Riordan is part of the Bullets' "blue team," or second unit. Motta has substituted en masse on occasion recently and says he isn't adverse to playing the reserves as a unit once the play-offs begin.

"If they are in there to start a quarter and they do well, they'll stay," Motta said.

"Everybody who isn't a starter is a member of the blue team," Riordan said, but the label applies most to Riordan, Bing, Kupchak, Gray and Larry Wright. Joe Pace and Bob Weiss are blue team reserves.