The Bullets are going to make Washington a hockey town yet. That two-week stoppage at Capital Centre makes their advancing to the Eastern Conference championship series almost mandatory to avoid rampant apathy next season.

If Abe Pollin could somehow arrange a transplant with his hockey and basketball franchises, inject some of the Bullets' talent into the Caps and some of the Caps' spirit into the Bullets, area fans could look forward to the playoffs with enthusiasm.

Of course, the NBA encourages this sort of late-season swoon by allowing more than half its teams into the playoffs. The Bullets have known for nearly a month that they would make the playoffs, that they had lost home-court advantages to either Philadelphia or San Antonio and that if they fail to win in the first round there will be serious changes, possibly a new coach or a big (E) trade.

So there has been little incentive. The season is far too long, the circumstances ripe for a team cluttered with minor injuries to get a good case of spring blahs. And the Bullets are too talented to be dismissed in the playoffs. They have beaten too many good teams in games that mattered.

They also are lazy, or at least indifferent toward trying to play to their potential every game. Too often, too many players take the easy - one-on-one - route on offense and defense instead of working at the drudgery that makes the team better at both ends of the court.

There is evidence that Tom Henderson might not be able to stop Kermit The Frog from getting an open jumper. There also is evidence that most of the front-court players either are unwilling or unable to pick up opposition guards when they elude Henderson and Kevin Grevey.

The fact that the Bullets had only won three more games than the Atlanta Hawks going into last night's action is almost sinful, even with Phil Chenier available for less than half the season.

Subtraction by addition is what the Bullets have managed this season - so far. Two fine players, Larry Wright and Mitch Kupchak, are no longer rookies. The Bullets had the fourth pick in the draft and spent $500,000 to acquire Bob Dandridge.

Even if they win their final four games, the Bullets would finish three games behind last season's 48-34 record, which was enough to get K.C. Jones fired the season before.

All of this would not have happened if Dick Motta had been the coach. Or the fiery Motta that many of us assumed had lifted the no-talent Chicago Bulls to more than 50 victories four straight years by the force of his personality.

Possibly, Motta has been badgering the Bullets behind closed doors lately, with the same intensity that inspired Elvin Hayes earlier in the season. If he has, it has escaped Wes Unseld, who told The Post's Paul Attner Sunday:

"There isn't any in-between any more for us. Someone has to make it change. It's not going to happen all of a sudden. Only one person can do it. Who? The coach. It has to come from him first."

Wasn't Motta once the NBA's Tom McVie?

In truth, this notion of an honest game's effort for the sort of money the Bullets are paid should not have to come from the coach. The Chenier injury is a lame excuse. Healthy, when was he last seen diving for a loose ball?

Guards frequently were the leading opposition scorers last season against the Bullets, prompting Motta to say the top priority in the draft was somebody who could stay in the same zip code with the Paul Westphals of the NBA

At the time, Greg Ballard seemed an excellent selection.He was forced to stagnate on the bench this season. Or perhaps he is biding his time until management comes to the conclusion it cannot win an NBA championship with Elvin Hayes.

Also, veterans Bullet watchers believe Motta could have made better use of Joe Pace, when he wasn't AWOL, that Pace is a low-point player forced to play an outside game. And that Motta might have been more understanding with Ballard and Wright.

All of this might well become moot if the team suddenly turns on the inspiration button and plays to its level in the postseason. The worst thing Motta could do now would be to give winning too high a priority these last four regular-season games.

Everyone ought to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs. If that means resting Henderson and Dandridge instead of forcing them to play hurt, the choice should be rest.

At the moment, the Bullets are an enormous enigma. But the number of people who care deeply about the answer is dwindling.