One of the postgame bits of whimsey yesterday after watching Mitch Kupchak crash onto the floor for the eighth - and game-saving - time was that they practice taking charges at North Carolina.

Hold the snickers, folks. They really do.

"There's a guy with a clipboard keeping track of every one," Kupchak said. "They're called draw-charges, and you can use them against the sprints at the end of practice. For every drawcharge, you take one less sprint. Game charges count double."

Dean Smith even has a unique charge account.

"You can let the draw-charges build up," Kupchak said, "and use them whenever you like. Say you have 15 or 20 and you're feeling bad after practice sometime. You can take they day off.

"Seniors are allowed to will their leftovers to freshmen."

And who was the lucky beneficiary of Kupchak's floor time?

"No one," he said. "I used all mine on the last day of practice. I'm no fool."

Still, he was apprehensive just after doing what comes naturally in the final tense seconds of game three of the playoff series in Capital Centre. He had stepped in front of Houston's driving Mike Newlin and had taken his lumps. But he had been planted more like a wavering willow than a redwood.

"Yes, I'd been moving some," he said, "but you really are never completely still. Even when you set a pick, you have your shoulder leaning into the guy a little bit. I looked up at the ref, because I wasn't sure."

What he saw amounted to a victory sign for the Bullets.It was their ball with a one-point lead and 11 seconds left. Phil Chenier's two free throws were the final points in a 93-90 victory.

If not as dominant as in Washington's voctory in the opening game against the Rockets, Kupchak was a pivotal. He had 23 points in 26 points and played the final 7 1/2 minutes of an exceedingly rough game with five fouls.

Ironically, the fifth foul, with 67 seconds left in the third quarter, came when Kupchak was called for charging the former Niagara University baton twirler, Calvin Murphy.

"I was afraid," Kupchak said of his re-entrance into the game for Wes Unseld. "I really was. No, make that hesitant. I shouldn't be like that, I guess, but I was."

These three games against the Rockets have seen Kupchak compile some remarkable numbers: a shooting percentage of 829 with 29 for 35 from the field.

"I know the last two days I've hurting a lot more," he said. "More bruises, nothing serious. And I like the feeling, for some reason.

"On the Newlin play, I really didn't have much choice but to take the charge. I couldn't go for the block, because he's so good with his left hand he could have blocked me with the right hand and possibly gotten a three-point play."

As Kupchak was speaking to reporters, after a brief locker-room visit with former teammate Walter Davis, his voice seemed to become weaker and weaker.

"That's from yelling on defense," he said. "I've been playing more - and yelling more. My voice wouldn't go in the time I usually play. Guess it's not in shape for the playoffs."

But his outside jump shot is.

"That's a shot I probably should not be taking," he said. "But I can feel it. And I was told in college: 'If you feel it, try it.' And some of us are getting more shots because they've concentrating on Phil (Chenier) and 'E' (Elvin Hayes).

"When you run your entire offense to Phil and 'E' all season, they're gonna concentrate on them in the playoffs. You prepare for the playoffs; you don't prepare for the season. We've watched more films the last week than we've watched all season."

The most attrative matchup so far has been that of Kupchak and Moses Malone, and several times up and down the court yesterday the two went hard at one another. Kupchak would drive on Malone at one end of the court, then Malone would shoot a turnaround on Kupchak at the other end.

"The first game he was jumping into us," Kupchak said. "He's not doing that as much." In truth, the Bellets went into their Malone defense even before the opening tip, when captain Unseld kept telling the officials during their pregame meeting to "watch the three seconds."

Malone was called for three-second violation four times in the first half.

There were a few memorably good moments for teh Bullets, such as Tom Henderson's half-court drive on Newlin in the first half and Kevin Grevey's early shooting from long range. And some memorably bad ones, such as a fake that had Chenier ending atop Murphy's shoulders, like a sack of feed.

The enduring excellence, though, came from Kupchak.

"My series?" he said. "No. It's the Bullets' series. May be I'm a little young for all this." He laughed. "In two years, I'll probably shoot everything I get."