Phil Chenier practiced with the Washington Bullets for the first time this basketball preseason yesterday and said that the back spasms that had sidelined him have subsided.

Chenier, who underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk 13 months ago, took part in all of the drills but did not scrimmage.

"My back doesn't hurt anymore," Chenier said. "It's just a little sore. The injury itself is minor, but the whole thing is major because of the timing. It happened at the beginning of training camp and this was a very important camp to me.

"All I can do now is look forward to playing. I can't predict what will happen. If I don't have any reoccurrences of spasms or anything, my goal is to win a starting job."

Chenier said that he will not accompany the Bullets on their three-game exhibition swing this weekend to Philadelphia, New York and Wheeling, W.Va., but will work out on his own -- at home.

"Maybe by next week I'll be able to do more. I'm pretty much on my own as to how much I do and how soon, but I haven't been able to do anything for the last 2 1/2 weeks."

A healthy Chenier could help the Bullets and they don't want to count him out unless they are certain he cannot regain his form.

"I'm sure they feel I might have problems again, so it's important for me to get out and play and show them that I won't have any more problems," Chenier said.

"I imagine he's spent some damn anxious moments," Coach Dick Motta said. "We'd have to be 100 percent sure he's able to play before we'd count on him.

"If the trouble he is having now is just a flare-up, then great; but if it's a real problem, then I don't know. I'm not counting on him.I have to make plans around him.

"I do hope at some time he will be 100 percent healthy and that I will have to make a decision about who plays. I can't think about that now, though."

Chenier worked harder this offseason than ever before to strengthen his back so he can compete with Kevin Grevey and Roger Phegley for the starting spot that was once his.

"You have to have some motivation and my motivation before was to win the starting job in camp," Chenier said. "My motivation now is to get back to working out full time with the team.

"The worst part about this whole thing is that I felt I had really put my back to the test this summer. I played in the summer league, I played on my own, I worked out on the Nautilus machine. I stretched and I swam. I worked three times a day most of the time and I didn't have any pain."

Then, a few weeks ago, Chenier started having problems.

"I went back to California for a week and just did some light jogging," Chenier said. "I started feeling some tightness in my back so I took a couple of days off. When I came back home, I started working out again, but it was still tight.

"Then one night I was playing at UMBC and I bent over and felt a sharp pain. Then it started getting stiff and sore and the next day I went to the doctor. He said to stay off it. That was a Thursday. Camp opened the next day."

Chenier moved well in the drills yesterday and his fluid jump shot was still there. The only thing different about him appeared to be a full beard.

Speculation before camp opened was that Chenier, Grevey and Phegley would compete as equals for the starting big guard spot. The second-place finisher would be the backup man and the number-three man would probably be gone.

Motta said yesterday that it is too early to think about it, but all three could make the team.

"Kevin and Roger can both play forward, too, so it could work with the three of them," Motta said. "We'd have a minutes problem and maybe a personality problem, but that looks to be a long way off before a decision has to be made."

Chenier is hoping his progress will make that decision necessary soon.

Elvin Hayes did not practice last night because of a hip pointer . . . Steve Malovic did not work out again yesterday because of his sore back.