The Washington Bullets hope to catch the Houston Rockets flat and steal a victory Tuesday in the first game of their National Basketball Association Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.

The Bullets just came through a three tough games in a first-round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers; the Rockets, the Central Divisions champions, drew a first-round bye and have been idle the past 10 days.

"You've got to lose something going that long without a game," Bullet coach Dick Motta said. "We're in a position to go down there and steal a game from them (the Rockets), catch them when they aren't ready and take the home-court advantage away from them."

"That should give us an edge," agreed Elvin Hayes."It's tough to go that long without having any competition."

The first two games of the best-of-seven series will be played at the Summit in Houston and will be televised on WTOP-TV - at 9 p.m.

The winner will play the winner of the Boston-Philadelphia series. The survivor of that series will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA championship final series.

The Celtics lead their series, 1-0, having upset the Atlantic Division champion 76ers, 113-111, in Philadelphia Sunday.

The Celtics eliminated San Antonio in the first round, while the 76ers had a bye. Philadelphia had been idle for a week and was not up to par because of it.

That is what the Bullets hope happens to the Rockets.

"The layoff has to have an effect on them one way or anothr," said center Wes Unseld. "They'll be rested, but probably won't be too sharp."

If the Rockets are sharp, the Bullets could be in trouble, Houston is big, young, quick and hungry.

The Rockets beat the Bullets three of the four times they met this season, the last time April 1 at Capitol Centre when the division championship was on the line.

Moses Malone scored 20 points and grabbed 27 rebounds in that game as the Rockets knocked off the Bullets, 91-85.

If Malone can be kept off the boards, the Bullets can get their fast break going and control the game. If Malone goes wild like he did in the last game, the Rockets should be in the driver's seat.

Hayes, who scored a season-law five points in that game, thinks he knows how to silence Malone.

"What you have to do with a player like him is give him one good shot to quiet him down," Hayes said. "You know he's coming to the board. You have to give him a shot to make him think about it."

Unseld is not all that impressed with Malone either.

"All he does is run baseline to baseline," Unseld said. "That's why he's a good offensive rebounder. He doesn't come up high and set picks and he doesn't pass. All he does is rebound."

Malone did his rebounding number to the tune of 1,072 rebounds this season, a 13.1 average, third best in the NBA. He set a league offensive rebound record with 437.

While Malone rebounds, the other Rockets concentrate on other things.

Rookie guard John Lucas, from Maryland, is the playmaker. He penetrates and plays tough gambling defense. He averaged 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals a game.

Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy do most of the scoring and 7-foot Kevin Kunnert helps Malone under the baskets.

Mike Newlin is as good a sixth man as there is in the NBA. Man for man, there are few teams that can match up with the Rockets in quickness and they know how to take advantage of it.

The Rockets are a well-disciplined team. They will run where the opportunity is there, and when they are forced to set up on offense, they are patient enough to wait for good shots. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]tr for add two Bullets.

Their team field goal percentage of 48.3 was third best in the NBA. They were also third in the league in free throw percentage, shooting 89 per cent.

When the Bullets were able to run against the Cavaliers, they won. In the game they lost, Cleveland beat them on the boards, made them run set plays and held them to a season low 83 points.

Motta showed in the decisive third game, a 104-98 Bullet success, that he won't hesitiste to replace shooters with ball-handlers in key situations.

As an indication, when Phil Chenier, the Bullets' leading scorer in the first-round series, had problems late in the game, Motta yanked him in favor of Bob Weiss.

That gave the Bullets a backcourt duo of Weiss and Tom Henderson, two playmakers.

Dave Bing is normally Chenier's replacement.

Motta said he just wanted Weiss cool head in the game then and he knew he had to have Henderson in.

For the Houston series, Motta said he would use Bing to back up Cheiner and Larry Wright and Weiss behind Henderson.

"I'll go with Larry in the first half and see how he does nd then if I have to, I'll go with Weiss in the second half," Motta said.