The Cleveland Cavaliers, who have avoided playing defense most of this season, toned down their pump-and-pray offense long enough in the second half to choke the Washington Bullets and cruise to a 122-103 triumph before 8,429 last night at Capital Centre.

The Bullets earlier announced that 6-foot-10 rookie center Steve Malovic has been traded to the San Diego Clippers for a second-round draft pick in 1982 and other future considerations. Malovic injured his back diving for a loose ball before Washington's first exhibition game and did not play until the fifth game of the preseason. He played in only one regular-season game, scoring one point in six minutes against Boston Nov. 3.

The Bullets, riding a four-game winning streak, appeared to have things in control in the first half although they led by only 59-54.

"we were doing all right in the first half but sort of got lulled to sleep."

Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "I said at halftime they were a dangerous team with nothing to lose. I hate to play a team that hasn't won too many."

The Bullets (8-8) left their game and poise in the locker room the second half. Cleveland came out smoking, hitting seven of its first nine tries from the floor and exploded to a 70-62 lead.

Randy Smith got the Cavs' fast break going. The speedy guard stole two balls, sank a pair of free throws and made a breakaway layup in the spurt. Smith was also the catalyst for his team, which surprised the Bullets and themselves with a hustling defense that completely stymied Washington's efforts.

Washington was caught up in wrangling with officials Jack Madden and Leroy Alexander and fell completely apart.Madden called three technicals on Washington and ejected Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff, with 11:08 left in the game.

The contest was over long before Bickerstaff strolled to the dressing room. Campy Russell, Mike Mitchell, Foots Walker, Dave Robisch and Smith had totally unnerved Washington, running off 16-3, 11-4 and 13-0 blitzes en route to taking as much as a 27-point lead.

Turnovers, missed shots and sloppy defense doomed Washington in the third period, Three Smith baskets and four points each from Russell and Mitchell sent Cleveland ahead, 91-77, after three periods.

"They came out tough and hit some quick baskets on us," said Bullet guard Larry Wright. "We didn't get the shots we wanted and they got a few easy baskets. We also got some untimely fouls. The refs showed they couldn't be intimidated."

Washington, which shot 44 percent for the game, sank only six of 29 attempts in the disastrous third period. Cleveland made 14 of 20, with Smith getting 11 of his game-high 32 points in the quarter.

"We wanted to get up on them in the third period and force them to do some things they aren't used to doing," said Russell, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds. "We swarmed all over them on defense to try to force a bad pass or make them take a bad shot. They got a bit rattled when the fouls went against them. We stayed calm and that was the difference."

Cleveland, 21st in the league in defense (allowing 119 points per game), made sure the Bullets stayed buried in the last period. Kenny Carter started a 13-0 run with a three-point play that led to Bickerstaff's dismissal. Carr started across the key but was grabbed by Greg Ballard. Carr continued to the basket, dunked the ball and was given credit for the basket because of the continuation play.

Randy Smith threw in five points and Willie Smith sank a three-point shot and the Cavs were well on their way to their eighth win against 13 losses, 104-77, with about nine minutes left.

Washington got 10 points from Bobby Dandridge, who didn't start because of a stiff neck, and six from Wright in the final eight minutes but no rally was forthcoming.

"We're not an awesome rebounding team so we depend on our quickness and traps," Cleveland Coach Stan Albeck commented. "Washington is the best team in the league at posting people up and we wanted to cut that off, and shut down their passing lanes. We made some big plays when we had to. We have an explosive club."

Cleveland's band of jump shooters took their share of 18-to-20 footers in the first two periods and managed a 30-28 lead after the first quarter. Elvin Hayes, called for his fifth and sixth fouls within seconds of one another in the final quarter, and Roger Phegley each scored 10 points to stake Washington to its short-lived 59-54 halftime lead.

Washington never saw the light after that.

Dandridge led the Bullets with 23 points, Phegley scored 14 and Hayes, Wes Unseld and Wright each had 12. Hayes collected 16 rebounds.

Kevin Porter, the Bullet playmaker fell diving for a loose ball and slightly injured his knee. He sat out the final period and will be x-rayed today.