Another lackluster performance by the Washington Bullets resulted in an 87-81 defeat to the New York Knicks tonight at James Madison University.

The Bullets shot a horrible 31 percent as they lost their fourth game in five tries this exhibition season. (FOOTNOTE)(END FOOT)lvin Hayes and Wes Unseld were the biggest contributors to the misses. Butween them they made only three of 22 shots. Roger Phegley was high scorer with 21 points.

The Knicks were led by Bill Cartwright's 18 points and 13 rebounds.

"This was one of our better performances," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said, only half in jest. "Our execution was pretty good at times, but it has to get better.

"Our fast break was better. We got some good outlet passes, but we didn't convert at the other end."

The game marked the preseason debuts of Steve Malovic and Phil Chenier for Washington.

Malovic played only eight minutes before spraining his ankle. Chenier shot one for six.

"I felt pretty good," Chenier said. "I just wanted to get a couple of shots off."

Phegley scored 10 of his points in the first quarter to stake the Bullets to a 24=18 lead. They were ahead, 38-30, midway through the second quarter when the Knicks made the run that eventually did in the B,llets.

The New Yorkers outscord the Bullets, 17-4, the rest of the half and took a 47-42 lead. They never trailed after that.

Rookie Sly Williams had eight points and nine rebounds in the Knicks run.

The Bullets missed 15 of 16 shots in that span.

The play of the game belonged to 6-5 Bullet rookie Garcia Hopkins. In the third quarter he grabbed an offensive rebound and in one motion hook slam-dunked the rebound home and figuratively bring down the house.

Becauseof so many injuries to both teams, both Motta and New York Red Holzman had some strange combinations on the floor at times.

The Bullets had only 11 players since Bob Dandridge has a strained leg ligament, Kevin Grevey a pulled groin muscle and Larry Wright a bruised heel.

The Knicks were without Earl Monroe, Ray Williams, Marvin Webster and Joe C. Meriweather.

The Bullets' next exhibition will be Friday at Capital Center against the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of a doubleheader. Philadelphia and New Jersey play in the opener.