The Washington Bullets, knocked out the playoffs last year by the Cleveland Cavaliers, meet the same team here tonight as the National Basketball Association's "money season" commences.

The 8:05 game at Capital Centre will not be televised, but can be heard on WTOP (1500) radio. Several thousand tickets were still available as of late yesterday.

The Bullets had a team meeting and then went through a 45-minute practice under a confident coach Dick Motta.

"Phil [Chenier] is hitting, Elvin [Hayes] is moving good and Tom [Henderson] has it under control," the coach said. "We're ready."

The Bullets finished the regular season with the third best record in the Eastern Conference and thus drew the Cleveland Cavaliers, the sixth-place conference finisher, in the first round of the playoffs.

The second game of hte best-of-three series will be Friday in Richfield, Ohio, and a third game, if necessary, will be at Capital Centre Sunday.

For the Bullets to go all of the way, they must win four playoff series and the odds against that are great. Barring any upsets, the Bullets will not have the home-court advantage in any of its subsequent series.

If Washington gets by Cleveland, it will play the Central Division champion Houston Rockets in a best-of-seven series.

Assuming there is no last-minute settlement in the distpute between the NBA and its striking referees, tonight's game will be called by officials from the minor leagues and others tested by the NBA in presenson.

The NBA officials went on strike Sunday and the Bullets' last regular season game was worked by Eastern League officials Richie Jackson and Joe Crawford without incident.

The only familiar names expected to appear are Earl Strom and Richie Powers, the two regular referees who did not join the 24 striking members of the National Association of Baskethball Referees.

It is likely that Strom and Powers will be kept very busy.

"We will be utilizing our most experienced referees as much as possible," Simon Gourdine, NBA Deputy commissioner, said.

The rookie referees who worked Sunday and were considered possibilities for the playoffs were: Roger McCann, Paul Campbell, Dick Schaper, Mel Whitworth, Houston Vaughan, Crawford, Jackson, Bob Siembida, Milt, Cooper, Bob Dillard, Terry Durham, Mike Eggers, Paul Wilson and Bernie Fryer, who used to play for the Portland Trail Blazers.

John Nucatola, the league's supervisor of officials, had seen the new referees in training camps and in the semipro leagues, which use NBA rules. Nucatola selects the officials and their pairings for the playoffs.

The NBA refuses to disclose its officials before any game.

The Cavaliers did not play well in the second half of the season, and partly because of injuries.They lost Nate Thurmond in February, but he will return for the playoffs. Their playmaker, Jim Cleamons, has a severe groin injury and will miss the playoffs.

The Cavalier are still dangerous. They are basically a perimeter-shooting team without much inside scoring punch. They play a controlled, pattern offense and try to lull their opponents into that type of game.

In the four games the Bullets lost to the Cavaliers in last year's playoffs, Washington scored 79, 76, 91 and 85 points.

The Bullets have beaten the Cavaliers three out of four times this season, averaging 109.5 points a game.

"You really have to execute against Cleveland," Motta said. "They can make you look bad. You know they-are-going to use the clock, so every possession is important.

"You're got to expect to score about 10 fewer points a game in the playoffs."

Motta said he expects the matchups to be the same as the Bullets used against the Cavaliers last week.

Foots Walker is expected to start in place of Cleamons and Henderson will be on him. Chenier will go against Austin Carr, Hayes on Jim Chones, Kevin Gravey on Bingo Smith and Wes Unseld and Jim Brewer.

Campy Russell, who has been hampered by a sprained ankle, may start in place of Smith. Larry Wright, also suffering from a sprained ankle, is available to play for Washington.

The Cavaliers are one of the teams that collapse on Hayes when he gets the ball in low. They try to force the Bullets' leading scorer and rebounder to give the ball up without a shot.