The Bullets played just well enough yesterday to take advantage of Philadelphia's less-than-enthusiastic approach and wrapped up third place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

While the 76ers spent halftime betting on how many points Denver's Daivd Thompson would score against Detroit, Washington straightened out its offense, pulled away in the third period and posted a 123-113 triumph before 17,952 at Capital Centre.

The victory gave the Bullets a 44-38 record, good for second place in the Central Division behind San Antonio and third in the Eastern Conference behind the 76ers and Spurs.

The Bullets open the first playoff round against Atlanta on Wednesday night in Capital Centre. The best two-of-three series will continue Friday night in Atlanta and if necessary, conclude here Sunday afternoon. The winner will play San Antonio, which has a bye, in the best-of-seven second round.

A career-high 29 points by reserve Charles Johnson, 26 points from Elvin Hayes and 23 from Mitch Kupchak gave the Bullets enough firepower to dump Philly for the second time this season.

Philadelphia coach Billy Cunningham helped the Bullets by playing his second team almost exclusively in both the second and fourth quarters.

Although the 76er subs aren't exactly inept, they aren't Julius Erving, Doug Collins and George McGinnnis. Those three stars had only 36 points. Erving was the only one to play more than 20 minutes.

With Tom Henderson sittint out with a sprained toe, Bob Dandridge playing 22 minutes after missing three games with a variety of injuries and Kevin Grevey getting in for only six minutes because of a tight leg, the Bullets were glad not to have to face the full force of the Philly offensive tornado.

Before the game, the 76er players engaged in a "tape war," trying to tie each other up with trainer's tape. AT halftime, after hearing, Thompson had scored 53 points in the first half, they each put $1 in a pool and guessed at his final total.

The Bullets were far more serious, and for good reason. Finishing third is worth about $500 more a man than fourth, and it also allows them to avoid meeting Phillp in the second round.

Hayes, still having dizzy spells afger hurting himself against the Knicks two weeks ago, sank 15 third-quarter points to help Washington grab a 94-85 lead.

After shooting 39 per cent in losing Saturday night Philly, 131-114, and only 44 per cent in the first half yesterday, the Bullete suddenly found their shooting and blazed away at a 57 per cent pace in the third period.

They hit their first five shots and their last seven, in the fourth, they connected on line of their initial 13 attempts. Hayes didn't miss on his first six shots of the half and Johnson made his last two of the third and four in a row in the fourth.

Johnson, the midseason free-agent addition from Golden State, played 35 minutes in place of Grevey was livid afterwards because he felt he should have been used more, but a closed door meeting with coach Dick Motta cooled him.

"It was a breakdown in communication," said Grevey. "He thought I was hurt and I wasn't. He felt I was sluggish in the first half and so he didn't play me in the second.

"He's been taking me out so quickly lately that I was getting the feeling if I missed a few right away, I was done for the day, just like last year. This has taught me one lesson: don't play hurt. It's not worth it."

Motta said he had been trying to rest Grevey as much as possible "because I thought he was hurting. If I misunderstood him, I feel sorry about that. But now I think we are on the same wave length."

The large crowd yesterday was on a wave length with Dr.. The fans responded to his every move, and he gave them memorable thrills although missing a few of his stylish 'one-handed dunk attempts.

Even the good doctor couldn't outdo teammate Darryl Dawkins, who went through an incredible three minute span in the second period that had the placee in an uproar.

He started with a dunk over Kupchak. He tapped in a Johnson layup and was called for goal tending. He was whistled for two straight offensive charges, another goal tending and finally a rarely-seen lane violation on a foul shot.

Dawkins was fuming and ready for the bench. But before he left, he slammed in one more dunk and stormed off to wild applause.

Later, the crowd was cheering Washington as it swept to its 14th straight home victory this season before gatherings of 12,000 or more.

"Philly was loose and that worried things well in the second half. We me," said Motta. "But we handled came through when we had to and that's the important thing."

Motta feels the club will be in "as good shapes as we've seen for a while" during the playoffs. He expects henderson and Dandridge to start Wednesday . . . Dandridge scored eight points and said afterwards he was winded at imes . . . Rookie Phil Walker chipped in with a career-high seven assists and 11 points . . .