After that he called"an excruciatingly painful" hot wax treatment, Bullet forward Elvin Hayes may have regained his shooting touch in time for Friday night's crucial playoff game against San Antonio.

Hayes, whose shooting has been hampered since dislocating a joint in the middle finger of his right hand Sunday, underwent therapy this morning that involved dipping his hand in hot paraffin eight times.

"The first time you dip it in, the pain is awful," Hayes said, "but it really does a good job.

"After I was done, a lot of the sensation came back in the finger. I could feel it for the first time since I hurt it. That's the important thing. You have to feel the ball go off your finger when you shoot it.

"My shot felt much better (in practice). Now the problem is to get back into my game psychologically."

He said he would receive another hot wax treatment Friday morning.

The Bullets desperately need a solid performance from Hayes in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference championship series (8:30 p.m. EDT, WDCA-TV 20). Otherwise, they risk falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven round.

"It would put us in a horrible position if we lost this game," said forward Bob Dandridge."If we go back home 2-2, we are okay. If we don't, we have problems.

Although Dandridges said it was unfair "to single out Elvin as the reason we win or lose any playoff game," Washington's success in the playoffs the last two seasons has hinged greatly on Haye's performances.

When he has played well, the Bullets have not always won. But when he has failed to score heavily, they have lost almost every time.

Hayes registered only 15 points in Game 3 Wednesday night, which San Antonio won, 116-114, by surviving a desperation Washington rally.

He pulled down 23 rebounds and was intimidating on defense, but admitted afterward that his middle finger was numb and he could not develop any touch on his hots. His markmanship reflected his struggle as he made only seven of 20 attempts.

He said today he would not hesitate "to fire them up" Friday night "because as long as they keep dropping a guard down to doubt-team me, I have to make them respect me.

"But I won't take many long shots, I'll keep my game around the key, where I can rebound and set screens and do things like that.

"I really feel we can win this game. We just have to play alive and aggresive at the start instead of waiting like we have been until the end. If we can keep it close, we can beat them downs the stretch. But I'd like to put them away as early as possible."

Hayes spent much of the Bullets' short practice today trying to become familiar with his taped finger. At one point, he stood at the foul line and softly shot the ball against the backboard time after time, concentrating on his spin and release.

Later, he took passes from Charles, Johnson in the low post, spun an dput up his familiar turnaround jumper.

"Go to your Hall of Fame spot," Johnson had told Hayes earlier, referring to the low post. "That's where you belong."

Hayes smiled. He was making an effort to relax and his teammates did their best to help, especially Johnson and Dandridge, who needled him constantly throughout the workout.

Unlike some previous tense, situations, Hayes is not goint into a shell over his current difficulties. Although the injury is not major, it still poses enormous mental problems for an athlete who has managed to avoid injuries of any type for most of his career.

"You go all season and then you have an injury like this," he said. "It's the first time I've had an injury to my shooting hand.

"Any injury affects you mentally. It takes you a while to compensate for it. It's even harder when it's your shooting hand. If you compensate too much, it throws the whole shot off.

"If the shot is off, I have to try to do other things. I just can't let it become an obsession. After three days of any injury, the whole thing becomes mental, anyway.

"Look at Larry Wright. He could have stayed out a week (with a sprained ankle) but you have to fight it. That's the same with me. I have to block it out and not let it affect me."

Since hurting the finger in the first minute the second game, Hayes has made only 14 or 39 shots, including five of 19 from outside 10 feet. Only one of his successful baskets has come from beyond 15 feet, his most consistent range when he has the proper rhythm.

If Hayes continues to struggle with his marksmanship, Dandridges said he and Wes Unseld and Greg Ballard "would have to compensate by scoring more.

"But I don't feel the finger should keep him from being a force if he just plays good basketball. His game is down inside anyway, where he can rebound and put in layups. He just might be prevented from going further out for his shots.

"If he can get it low, he should be able to score. But this is still a team game. If we don't play better as a team, we aren't going to win. It won't be Elvin's fault."

Dandridge said it was just as important for the Bullets "to dominate the rebounding by 10 or 15 and not just outrebound them by a couple.

"And we have to be more aggressive. We get ahead of them and we seem to let up. We don't have a killer instinct. We've shown how we can play in the second half of the last two games. That's a clear indication of what we can do against this team if everyone's minds are in the game.

"We are trying to play like we did in the regular season and we're finding that it can't win in the playoffs (the Bullets have lost four of their last six playoff games). So we better change."