The Bullets got a taste of their own medicine tonight when the New York Knicks brewed a nifty concoction featuring fine bench play and precision shooting that produced an easy 109-99 victory.

The defeat knocked Washington out of the top spot in the NBA Atlantic Division for the first time in a month. The ailing Bullets trail Philadelphia by 10 percentage points, thanks mainly to three losses in the last five games.

Washington had compiled the league's best record in part because of a strong showing by its reserves. But while its injury-plagued bench could register only 18 points this game, New York's ran up 41.

And what a bench the Knicks employed: Bob McAdoo, Ray Williams and Earl Monroe. It may be the bestpaid corps of reserves in the NBA but New York has won two straight with that trio on the bench so no one on the club is complaining.

Coach Red Holzman, who has been searching vainly for some prescription to cure his team's bad habits, shuffled the starting lineup Wednesday night against New Jersey and came away with an unexpected triumph.

So he went with the same new cast of regulars in this one -- second-year players Glen Gondrezick, Toby Knight and Mike Glenn plus veterans Marvin Webster and Jim Cleamons -- and got good performances from eight players instead of just three or four.

Knight scored 23 points, and Glenn, who was playing only a minute or two per game last week, posted 21, including 13 in the third period when the Knicks took charge. And McAdoo (17) and Williams (13) supplied sufficient firepower in the fourth period to prevent any Bullet rally.

Holzman says there was no major reason for the changes "other than we wanted to do something different." But he admits the Knicks now "have a strong bench, not a weak one so we can deal better from strength. We've got guys out there now who know their roles.

"This is as well as we can play. We had good movement and better shot selection. If we have success over a sustained period of time, then this will be a good move. But it's too early to tell."

The Knicks are gambling that opponents will not be able to take enough advantage of their starting lineup to nullify their bench strength. The odds worked in their favor against Washington, which fell behind by four after the first quarter and never was able to take charge of the game the rest of the way.

"You've got to pounce on them and make them go to the bench earlier than they want," said Bullet guard Kevin Grevey. "If they can hang in there with the starters, the bench can kill you."

This also was a smarter, more deliberate New York club than the one that lost to the Bullets by 27 a month ago here without McAdoo. The Knicks committed just four turnovers -- a season low -- at the half and when they had built a 19-point lead in the third, they had yet to add a mistake to that total.

The Bullets wanted to run, but 54 percent shooting by New York prevented many fast breaks. Only Bob Dandridge (35 points, one off his season high), Elvin Hayes (22 points, 21 rebounds) and Mitch Kupchak (16 points) broke into double figures out of Washington's set-up offense, which hardly was executed crisply.

"Their bench was strong and my bench was hurting," said Washington Coach Dick Motta. "I shouldn't have played Greg (Ballard) because his ankle hurts too much and Mitch's wrist doesn't let him play like he should. Our defense had to be better than it was to win this one."

Despite all the Knicks' high-priced stars, the one player who hurt the Bullets the most was Glenn, a freeagent signer who once starred at Southern Illinois.

Holzman has him in the game strictly as a shooter and Glenn plays the role well.He made nine of 14 attempts for the night and was five for eight during his third-quarter outburst.

"We have a great ability to make guys like Glenn look like all-league," said Motta. But Glenn was just playing smartly, weaving around picks and screens for open perimeter jumpers that a good shooter makes as easy as a layup.

"I'm still not sure if the rest of the season will go this well," said Glenn, "but Red has been telling me to stay ready and I'd get my chance.

"We've got a good team as long as we don't try to go into one-on-one plays. If we move the ball and find the open man we can win. You have to do certain things to win and we did them tonight."

The same goes for the Bullets, who haven't played well the last three weeks. They now have three days off before practicing Monday and Motta says the rest period couldn't come at a better time.

"We aren't sharp and there are enough nagging injuries to upset our balance," he said. "If we can keep the injuries to what they are now, we will be okay. If they get worse, it won't be good."