When Bo Ellis was rookie in the Bullets' preseason training camp, his biggest supporter on the team was Elvin Hayes.

"He has lots of potential," said Hayes. "He just has to get experience and learn from the veterans."

Ellis, who was traded by the Bullets to the Denver Nuggets before the season started, learned from a veteran Friday night. His name: Elvin Hayes.

Hayes took Ellis to the school of hard knocks twice in overtime, resulting in back-to-back power-drunk shots that won the game for Washington, 117-112.

It was an important victory for the Bullets, since both San Antonio and Cleveland, the closest challengers in the NBA central division, had lost earlier in the evening. The Bullets finished the evening with a two-game lead over the Cavaliers and 2 1/2 over San Antonio.

And it was an important victory from a standpoint of momentum. The contest marked the start of a four game, five-night trip that also includes stops tonight in Portland, Sunday in Seattle and Tuesday in Los Angeles. Coach Dick Motta said it was vital his team got off to a good start.

"You've got potential of having a bad trip when you have to play in cities like Denver, Portland and Los Angeles," he said. "To get Renver on their home court, well, that's got to help."

Denver had won 17 straight home games over the last two years and already had beaten Washington at Capital Centre this season. But Hayes refused to let the Nuggets extend their winning streak.

"It was my best game of the season," said Hayes, who had put together some marvelous performanced already in the last month. "The more 1 played, the better I felt."

Hayes wound up with a season-high 33 points, 20 rebounds (tying his season high), four blocked shots and four assists. And he had seven of the Bullets' 17 overtime points.

"I have success against Denver because their big guys aren't that strong," he explained. "You can move and move and you can use your weight against them. It eventually wears them down.

He could also use his experience, especially in the overtime when Denver's best big men, Bobby Jones and Dan Issel were on the bench, having fouled out.

Ellis, who gives away 35 pounds to Hayes, tried to front the Bullet veteran. But Hayes twice took a backdoor route on the rookie and grabbed fine passes from Bobby Dandridge, which he converted into dunk baskets.

"Bo went for the same fake twice," said Hayes, whose points assured the triumph. Washington's 13th in its last 16 games and its fifth in the last six road games. "He didn't adjust at all. It surprised me.

"I got tired in the first half, but the altitude didn't affect me in the second half. Wes (Unseld) told me that it takes three days for the altitude to get to you and I was there only 1 1/2 days, so maybe that is why I felt okay."