The Washington Bullets limped to their fifth straight victory tonight, a 96-90 decision over the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was not a pretty game for the Bullets, who shot only 41 percent and committed 22 turnovers, but considering they were without Mitch Kupchak for the whole game, without Wes Unseld for three quarters of it and Bobby Dandridge was in foul trouble all night, Coach Dick Motta called it "as big as any win we've had all year.

"This won't go down as a great performance, but it was a gut win," he said.

Kupchak was back home with his sore Achilles' tendon, and when Unseld's sore right ankle stiffened in the first quarter, the Bullets were left with third-string center Dave Corzine.

Corzine, who was so tired he could barely hold his head up after the game, played 24 minutes and had four points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

It was Elvin Hayes, however, who dominated the game. Hayes had 33 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. He played 47 minutes, 13 more than any other Bullet.

Hayes got the Bullets going with 15 first-quarter points for an early 16- point lead. Milwaukee made it close a number of times, but the Bucks never led.

"I was hoping we'd get a big lead to help us down the stretch because without Mitch, and with Wes hurting, I knew we could be in trouble," Hayes said.

Unseld, who orginally injured his ankle against Atlanta Jan. 30, said, "It just tightened up tonight. I don't know what's wrong with it."

The ankle will be X-rayed when the Bullets return home Thursday.

Fortunately, the Bullets don't play again until Sunday against the 76ers in Philadelphia. Kupchak is expected back by then.

Because Corzine seldoms plays more than a few minutes a game, Motta had to make all sorts of adjustments to his lineup tonight. He often used a front line of Hayes at center and Dandridge and Greg Ballard at forward.

Ballard had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

"We don't lose much with that lineup in," Hayes said. "That just gives us three more shooters."

Motta, whose only loss in six games was in the All-Star Game Sunday, said, "Man, have I got some guys hurt. These are the kinds of games you can lose. You are relying on your third center. Bobby is in foul trouble and Mitch and Wes aren't even here, and we still win."

Unseld sat on the bench the entire second period and stayed in the dressing room the second half.

The Bucks made several runs at the Bullets, but each time Washington found some way to keep Milwaukee away.

A 12-point run at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second cut a 32-16 Bullet lead to 32-28 two minutes into the second quarter. Hayes put in an offensive rebound and Dandridge added back-to-back jumpers, and the Bullets had some breathing room.

Milwaukee got within four points again later in the period, but the Bullets once more yanked the lead back to 10 on fast-break baskets by Hayes and Ballard and a 22-footer by Kevin Grevey.

Milwaukee's last threat came in the final six minutes when Brian Winters made an 18-footer and then, after Bullet misses, Marques Johnson scored on two consecutive moves inside. Junior Bridgeman followed with a 15-footer that pulled the Bucks within three, 87-84, with 3:36 to play.

Ballard scored on a layup at the other end, Bridgeman missed for Milwaukee and Hayes rebounded and scored on a turnaround jumper to clinch it.

Bridgeman's 18 points led the Bucks, who shot only 37 percent for the game. Many of their misses were layups.

Quinn Buckner was the primary Buck bricklayer. In one stretch of the second quarter he missed three straight layups, the last one never even touched the rim.

Bernie Bickerstaff, Motta's assistant coach, also missed the game tonight. He was not feeling well and did not make the trip.