The Washington Bullets probably will be without forward Bob Dandridge again when they take on the Atlanta Hawks in an 8:05 game tonight at Capital Centre. The Bullets already were under strength at his position.

The Bullets are looking for their first victory of the National Basketball Association season after two setbacks.

Dandridge, who was ineffective against Philadelphia in the season opener last Friday and did not play against the New York Knicks Saturday because of a sore ankle, was examined by team physician Stan Lavine yesterday.

Lavine said Dandridge has a "slight ligament strain" in his left foot and his availability is a "day-to-day thing."

Dandridge said yesterday he does not think he will play tonight. The Bullets are not planning on playing him.

"He probably won't be there," Coach Dick Motta said. "It doesn't look too good. He didn't even get suited up and shoot around today (Tuesday)."

With Mitch Kupchak and Steve Malovic on the injured list, the Bullets will have available only two true forwards, Elvin Hayes and Greg Ballard. Ballard will replace Dandridge and Roger Phegley will be the backup small forward. Motta can use center Wes Unseld as a forward.

Ballard, slowed by bone chips in his ankle, could play only 14 minutes against the Knicks, but said he is better now.

That necessitated Motta playing Phegley at small forward in New York and he responded with 35 points.

Motta obviously liked what he saw.

"We probably won't use Roger at guard at all until we know about Bobby," Motta said.

That means Phil Chenier, who also sparkled against the Knicks, will get the call as the backup shooting guard to Kevin Grevey.

Chenier shot fairly well, played good defense and handled the ball well against the Knicks, but what impressed Motta most in Madison Square Garden was that Chenier could play 35 minutes.

"That was the encouraging thing." Motta said, "and then he's come out and practiced hard the last two days, too, without any problems.

"He's in a good frame of mind and he's played some good basketball," Motta said of Chenier, who had back surgery in September 1978.

"I think his movements is better now that it was when I first came here four years ago. I wouldnt be surprised if he got back to his old form pretty soon."

Despite Phegley's performace against the Knicks and despite Ballard's proven ability, the Bullets need Dandridge and they need him badly. A large part of the offense is designed for him and does not work quite the same when someone else is at small forward.

With Ballard and Hayes, the Bullets basically have two big forwards.

"We use Ballard a lot like we use E," Motta said.

"When Roger is in there we set him up for jump shots and we don't call any post plays. Bobby can play like both of them -- he can post up or go outside."

Because of his depleted roster, Motta had Phegley practice with the first unit yesterday so Hayes and Ballard could go against each other. Guard Gus Bailey filled in as the fourth forward.

Although the third game of an 82-gameregular season, tonight's test with the Hawks has importance for the Bullets.

"We don't need to panic, but we don't want to dig ourselves into a hole," Motta said. "If we don't watch out, we could be 0-5 or 0-6 before you know it."

The Bullets travel to Boston to play the Celtics Friday night and return to Capital Centre Saturday for a game against the Detroit Pistons.

The scrappy Hawks were 1-1 going into last night's game against the San Antonio Spurs. They are expected to start the team that gave the Bullets so much trouble in the playoffs last season:

John Drew and Dan Roundfield as the forwards, Steve Hawes at center and Eddie Johnson and Armond Hill the guards . . . Kupchak returned to practice Monday, but still is two weeks away from full-scale workouts. He said he is right on his recovery schedule after June 29 surgery to repair a herniated disk. Kupchak takes part in shooting and running drills, but is held out of all contact work. "It's great to have him back, even though he can't do that much yet," Motta said. "It makes my day just to be able to say goodbye to him after practice."