There are a lot of misconceptions about Lloyd Free. There is talk around the National Basketball Association that he can't play defense, he's uncoachable and is a gunner who wants to throw up long shots everytime he touches the ball.

The real Lloyd Free is nothing like that.

Almost singlehandedly he has rescued the Bill Walton-less San Diego Clippers and made them respectable.

Going into tonight's game at Capital Centre against the Bullets, the Clippers are only two games under .500 and Free is the NBA's second-leading scorer, behind San Antonio's George Gervin, with a 31-point average.

Free has also captured San Diego, having reached the superstar status he proclaimed for himself when he left Guilford College after his junior year in 1975 to become a Philadelphia 76er.

Free is so much a star now in the NBA that one of the biggest promotion in league cities is "Stop Lloyd Free Night."

Tonight's game against the Bullets will be the third such night Free has seen this season. The first was in Los Angeles on Nov. 2, the other in Utah on Sunday.

They all work the same. If Free is held under his season scoring average, all fans in attendance receive a free ticket to another game.

The Bullets have gone a step further with their promotion. All tickets priced $4.50 and $7.50 will be two for the price of one, and if the Bullets hold Free below his average, everyone will receive a free ticket to another Bullet home game.

Free scored 29 points in Los Angeles, and was averaging 30.5 points at the time, so the Lakers had to pay off. Free hurt his foot in the game prior to the Utah appearance and didn't play.

The outgoing Free is loving every minute of it.

"Nobody can stop me," he said. "I tried to guard myself once, but I couldn't do it. I'm unstoppable."

Off the court, Free is loose and carefree.

"As a person, I see myself as being pretty together," he said. "I love to be around people. I like to make friends and say wild and crazy things."

On the court, he is all business, even though he goes about his job with a certain flair that says he enjoys his work. He says he is flattered when people talk about him -- good or bad.

"It's the people who call me a gunner who are keeping me in the league," he said.

"I've never heard of anything like the Stop-Lloyd phenomenon before," said Clipper publicist Hal Childs. "There aren't any stop-Kareem or stop-Gervin nights. I guess it's partly because of the flair Lloyd has that everyone wants to see him stopped."

There are other reasons for the promotion, too. The Clippers were a preseason pick as an NBA championship challenger because they had a healthy Walton. But they had to part with Kermit Washington and Randy Smith, a No. 1 draft choice and a lot of cash as compensation for wooing Walton away from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Then Walton reinjured his chronically bad feet and has yet to play a regular-season game for the Clippers. Without him, they aren't much of an attraction. Enter All-World Free.

At 6-foot-1, Free is not an ordinary basketball player. He has thighs like Earl Campbell and jumps like David Thompson. He also has a high, arching jump shot and as many one-on-one moves as Julius Erving.

The Philadelphia influence is obviously still with Free. "I see a combination of all of them in me -- Erving, George McGinnis and Darryl Dawkins," Free said. "They're all mixed up in me. I see all kinds of great things in myself."

Free is at his best when he penetrates the defense, and he works as well inside as most players six inches taller.

Free finished second to Gervin in league scoring last season with a 28.8 average and he led the league in free-throw attempts with 865 and in free throws made with 654.

He is far ahead of everyone else in the free-throw categories again this season, having made 309 of 417 attempts.

While the Walton deal has only caused heartache thus far, the Clippers, in essence, got Free from the 76ers for free -- a 1984 first-round draft choice.

To this point, Free has been spectacular. Going into tonight's game, he has played 113 games as a Clipper and has scored 40 or more points as 11 times, 30 or more 51 times and 20 or more 102 times. His single-game high this season is 49 points.