Can the return of Bob Dandridge improve the Washington Bullets' basketball IQ?

If the Bullets have any chance of defeating the San Antonio Spurs in their best-of-seven NBA quarterfinal playoff series, they say they have to play smarter than they did in losing the opening game Sunday.

Dandridge, who sat out that contest with a sore neck, will be in the starting lineup for tonight's 8:30 rematch (WDCA-TV-20) unless his neck stiffens at the last minute. Besides his 19-point avearage, second highest on the team, he will bring a court sense to the game that the Bullet desperately need.

"We've got to do a better job of executing what we know will work," said Coach Dick Motta, who remains convinced San Antonio will not win every game played here between the clubs. "Having Bobby back is important, he's a starter and he has experience. He helps us jell."

Dandridge's presence should help the Bullets in a number of ways.

He is one fo their cooliest clutch players, and athelete who likes to have the basketball in pressure moments.

He is an accurate 15-foot jump shooter who can relieve some of the pressure the spurs put on th Bullets' inside game Sunday.

He likes to run and is one of the club's best fast-break players. With his ball-handing, he feels the Bullets can break more than they did in the first contest.

He will allow Motta to move Mitch Kupchak to the bench, giving the coach more flexibility in his substituting. Lack of production from reserves on Sunday (14 points) was a major factor in the loss.

And he is a good enough defensive player to guard George Gervin, a matchup Motta said he might try during the contest.

"I will start Kevin (Grevey) against Gervin," said Motta. "But if Gervin takes over control of the game early, I may go with Dandridge on him.I think Bobby could do a good job against him ir necessary."

Dandridge said he felt he could "provide a couple of steals and some additional scoring and I think I give our offense more flexibility."

"With Mitch coming off the bench, it will give San Antonio a different look. They give us different looks with their bench and we have to do the same for them.

"If I have to guard Gervin I would try to be physical with him. I watched how Junior Bridgeman (of Milwaukee) worked on him last year and it seemed to be effective."

As long as the Bullets stayed with Motta's offense and took advantage of San Antonio's aggressive, gambling defense, they played even with the Spurs in the opener. But as soon as they began free-lancing, San Antonio raced to an insurmountable 16-point second-half lead.

Dandridge believes his presence gives the Bullets the finesse player they need to keep up with San Antonio's speed. Otherwise, the game will come down to matchup between Washington's bulk and San Antonio's running game.

He admitted that he could run into stamina problems; he has played in only one game the last two and a half weeks because of injuries. Yesterday was the first time he has practiced in three weeks.

"My neck feels pretty good," he said. "It hurts a little, but I don't see why I can't play in the game." Candridge has been bothered by muscle problems caused by a pinched nerve.

"I'd like to see San Antonio beat us without their second-best scorer," said Motta. "They couldn't. With Bobby we have a good shot at them.

"I'm not going to adjust anything else. We rebounded well. We only had 13 turnovers, which is good for us, and our defense wasn't bad.

We just didn't shoot well. We had the shots and they didn't fall. If we continue to shoot poorly, we aren't going to beat anybody. We also have to stop them from giving Gervin so much help. I still think their supporting cast beat us more than he did.

"They are a good ball team, we have to be clicking right to win. But I can't visualize them winning all four here. If they do, they deserve the services."

Motta wants the Bullets to start their plays closer to the foul line than they did in the first game, and he'd like them to start looking for the second and third options on plays instead of stopping at the first opportunity.

He would also like to see Kupchak play more at center. Especially if San Antonio goes with skinny Mike Green at that spot for long stretches instead of starter Bill Paultz.

Kupchak, who started Sunday at small forward in place of Dandridge, had a rare poor shooting game, making only four of 16 attemptss. He is stronger than Green and Motta feels he can score against the San Antonio reserve.

Motta's use of Kupchak could be a key factor in determining the game's outcome. This is the first time in Wes unseld's 10-year career at the club that a Washington coach has had a talented enough reserve to spell him at center, especially if opponents try to double-team Elvin Hayes and let Unseld roam free. In last season's playoff, Kupchak spent most of his time at small forward.

San Antonio Coach Doug Moe said he was happy that Dandridge finally was well enough to play.

"I want to win this series with everyone in the lineup," he said "We've beaten them this year with him and without him playing against us.

"All it does is change our matchups. We'll move Larry Kenon onto Dandridge and put Coby Dietrick on Elvin Hayes. I'd rather have a big guy like Dietrick on Hayes , anyway, so that helps us."

Moe also said he was unperturbed that this club was outrebounded badly in the first game (58-48). He said its overplay defenxe nad running style made San Antonio vulnerable on the boards, "but as long as we shoot well and can fast break, we can compensate for rebounding.

"They're going to outrebound us. They have everytime we've beaten them. But as long as we shoot well we can offset the rebounding."