The Washington Bullets expect to get the New Year off to a good start tonight when the play the Chicago Bulls at 8:05 p.m. at Capital Centre.

The Bullets hold a half-game lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. The 76ers, idle tonight, have the same winning percentage (.667) but have won two fewer games than Washington.

Washington should be well-rested after a four-day layoff. The Bullets have dropped three of their last four games, all away from Capital Centre. Eight of 13 games this month are at home.

Chicago, under new coach Larry Costello, has recovered nicely from a horrid 2-13 start. The Bulls ahve won 13 of their last 21 games and their last two in a row to move into third place in the Midwest Division with a 15-21 record.

Costello has brought the team back to respectability with good performances from a three-man mucleus: center Artis Gilmore, rookie guard Reggie Theus and power forward Mickey Johnson.

Gilmore is enjoying a banner campaign, averaging 24.9 points,leading the league in field-goal percentage (62.1), rebounding at a 13-per-game clip and ranking seventh in blocked shots.

Theus, a flashy 6-foot-6 Nevada-Las Vegas alumnus, has cemented a sharting slot with a 16.1 average and is second on the team in assists. Johnson is a 17-point scorer who leads the Bulls in assists.

Guard John Mengelt and forward Oillie Johnson complete the starting lineup. Forward Scott May, a former top draft choice, has missed all but two games with a knee injury.

The Bulls, meeting Washington for the first time this season, are second to Seattle in team defense, allowing 106 points per game, but are the league's worst team offensively, with a 102-point mark. Chicago is shooting 48.1 percent from the field, but leads the NBA in tournovers.

Costello is a great deal more effective in conveying instructions to guard Wilbur Holland, now that he knows Holland's good side.

"Last summer at training camp, I'd say things to him and sometimes he'd go right on as if he never heard me," Costello recently recalled.

"It wasn't for a long time that anybody bothered to tell me he was deaf in one ear."