One thing is clear after the first three games of the playoff series between the Washington Bullets and Houston Rockets - the team that uses the most muscle, or gets away with it, should come out on top.

The Bullets lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal, 2-1.

Yesterday, about 6,000 tickets remained for tonight's 8:05 game at Capital Centre. The game will not be televised here.

"It's a dock worker's series," said Houston coach Tom Nissalke. "They're just beating on each other."

Bullet coach Dick Motta agreed, but said, "By nature, they (the Rockets) are more physical than we are."

But the Bullets have benefited from the physical play more than the Rockets.

Guard Tom Henderson put the muscle on Rocket rookie John Lucas in the second half of Sunday's game and took Lucas out of his game.

Wes Unseld, Mitch Kupchak and Elvin Hayes have taken turns banging Moses Malone around, trying to slow him down, and Unseld has kept Rudy Tomjanovich away from the basket and made him shoot long jump shots most of the time.

Malone, Dwight Jones and Kevin Kunnert have served up the same treatment to the Bullets.

"All of the playoffs are like that unless you're blessed with superior talent," Motta said.

Both teams have similar game plans: get the ball upcourt quickly and get a shot off before the defense has a chance to set up.

The Bullets feel they can get any shot at any time.

"They (the Rockets) are not aggressive on defense," said Bullet assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "They 're aggressive under the boards, but if we execute on offense, we'll get any shot we want."

"They aren't taking very many things away from us," added Motta. "Both teams are starting to know each other's plays pretty well now, though, and I think now it's getting to the point where the team that improvises the best will win."

It is no secret the Bullets are best when they run, but as Motta says, "You never get to run as much as you want to in the playoffs because the defense is usually better. But you still have to push the ball upcourt quick.

"Defensively, you start on Malone and work out," Motta said.

The Rockets are primarily a jump-shooting team. Malone and the 7-foot Kunnert are basically their only inside scoring threats.

Nissalke is trying to get the Rockets to go inside to Malone more to draw the defense that way.

Bickerstaff counters by saying that Malone, as great a rebounder as he is "isn't going to kill you with his scoring.

"You've just got to play Moses head up, one on one and keep the other guys away. The first game of the series we blocked everybody off the board and Phil (Chenier) got 10 rebounds," Bickerstaff added. "Then we started worrying about Malone so much and trying to help on him that Tomjanovich and Jones and those guys started hurting us inside.

"Houston is trying a little power game, but they are good shooters and they want to shoot the jump shots."

The Rockets' game plan is to take advantage of superior quickness by Henderson penetrate.

They double team Hayes almost everytime he gets the ball low, but they are going man to amn on Kupchak.

They are trying to keep Chenier in check by alternating Lucas and Mike Newlin on him. Chenier usually uses picks to get open and the Rockets want Lucas to switch and guard the man setting the pick while his teammate switches to Chenier.

When the more physicial Newlin is in the game, he is supposed to fight through all picks and stay with Chenier.

Kupchak has made 29 of 35 shots in the three games and is tied with Chenier with 76 points as high scorer of series.

Nissalke said Malone seems to be the only Rocket who can handle Kupchak, but he will probably try 6-6 Goo Kennedy on him too.

The fifth game of the series will be played Friday in Houston and if a sixth is necessary if will be Capital Centre Sunday.