He doesn't score like he used to. Some of his zip seems to be gone. A bald spot is even starting to show and isn't considered the best center in the world anymore, having relinquished that title to Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers.

But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still as graceful as a 7-footer can be and he still shoots that unstoppable sky hook.

Abdul-Jabbar scored 31 points yesterday, with 18 coming off his sky hook. But he got only five rebounds and the Lakers fell, 119-112, to break their five-game winning streak.

"Our effort has been up and down this season and that has hurt us," Abdul-Jabbar said. "We have to be more consistent. We have to try hard all of the time."

The defeat dropped the Lakers three games below .500 and 16 games behind division-leading Portland.

"I'm not worried about anything," Abdul-Jabbar added. "Once we start playing consistently we'll be okay. The season doesn't start until April, anyway."

There was a time when Abdul-Jabbar could and would score whenever he felt like it. The Ball would be passed to him in the low post and he would find a way to put the ball in the basket.

Now his principal offensive weapon is that sky hook, which he shoots with either hand. But he has a difficult time positioning himself for that shot against the Bullets, he said, because of Wes Unseld.

"He's so wide that it is hard to get position to him," Abdul-Jabbar said.

Abdul-Jabbar made only five of 14 shots in the first half.

"They helped him (Unseld) a lot on me in the first half, so I had to pass off," Abdul-Jabbar said. "When I could get him in a one-on-one situation, like I did quite a few times in the second half, I burned him."

Then, if the Bullets shut off his sky hook, he would turn the other way and take a baseline jump shot.

Seldom did he drive to the basket and he missed three layups.

There are times these days when Abdul-Jabbar doesn't even join the Laker offense, but chooses to hang around midcourt and see what develops.

Laker coach Jerry West called it "embarrassing" that his team was outrebounded, 56-26.

"A lot of things can happen t cause you to get outrebounded that bad, Abdul-Jabbar said, "but effort is the big thing. Personally I'd like to go back out there and get four or five more."

This has been a trying season for Abdul-Jabbar. He was NBA's most valuable player the last two seasons, but didn't even make the All-Star team this year. That is because he missed 21 games after breaking his hand when he hit Ken Benson in the face in the first game of the season.

Last season the Lakers did not have the talent to help Abdul-Jabbar. This season they have added last year's rookie of the year, Adrian Dantley, plus Jamaal Wilkes, Lou Hudson and Charlie Scott, and now have as much talent as any team.

Still, the catalyst is Abdul-Jabbar. In each of the last four seasons, his scoring average has dipped, but he has played a better overall game. He just hasn't been the dominating force this season he has been in the past.

"It's unfair to judge Kareem on his performance this year because he missed the first 21 games," West said. "When he came back, everyone else was in midseason form. He is still the great player he always was."